George Grosz (1883-1959)
‘An artist today, if he does not want to spin his wheels or become a failed trend, can only choose between technique and propaganda for class struggle. In either case, he must abandon “pure art”’.
George Grosz, the son of a Berlin public house owner, was born in 1893. He enrolled in the academy of arts in Dresden (Kunstakademie) in 1909, and then in the school of arts and crafts at the decorative arts museum in Berlin (Kunstgewerbemuseum), where Emil Orlik became his professor. Beginning at this time Grosz sent caricatures to German journals such as Ulk or Lustige Blatte.
He went to Paris to study at the Académie Colarossi, but returned to Berlin in 1914 to join a regiment of grenadiers. He was discharged in May 1917 for being unfit. Motivated by his antimilitaristic views, he joined the Dada movement in Berlin and invested himself in propaganda. In 1918 he joined a group of German Expressionists known as the Novembergruppe, the name of which refers to the advent of the Weimar Republic. He also participated in the Spartacist uprising in January 1919.
After becoming a member of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD), he worked for several different politicised reviews in Berlin such as Der Blutige Ernst and Die Aktion (baptised ‘Marshall Propaganda’). He participated in the organisation of the First International Dada Fair (July-August 1920). His attitude toward proletarian art, his emphatic denunciation of the state of the world after the war, and his subversive caricatures earned him condemnation and censure by the justice system (series of prints Gott mit uns, 1920). Nevertheless he continued to create in a satirical tone in not only prints but also in paintings (Die Stützen der Gesellschaft, or: The Pillars of Society, 1926): ‘a society dominated by stripes, the frock coat, the cassock, and the safe’ (cf. Léon Balzagatte, Grosz, 1926).
If until 1920 his style showed a strong influence of the futurist aesthetic – particularly in the dynamic and intense representation of cities (Metropolis, 1917, The Funeral (Dedicated to Oskar Panizza), 1917-1918) – or of Italian metaphysical painting (Untitled, 1920), Grosz thereafter abandoned any unrealistic style in exchange for a more directly accessible style: New Objectivity. This new movement, born in the 1920s in Germany, is in many ways an extension of German Expressionism, but it now proposes a disillusioned worldview, as seen in Grosz’s Berlin street scenes. As for his portraits, they evoke an unapologetic realism (Portrait of the Writer Max Hermann-Hesse, 1925).
Each period of Grosz’s oeuvre features series of erotic scenes ironically engaging the viewer. They reveal his fascination with the pleasure industry offered by city nightlife.
In 1932, Grosz was offered a teaching position in a New York art school; he emigrated to the United States the following year, which also saw Hitler’s rise to power. Before becoming an American citizen in 1938, although his refugee status should have made it uncomfortable for him to express himself through his own brand of satire, he created a series of watercolours inspired by Broadway (1933-1934).
The art of his last period is no longer as exaggerated, but rather steeped in romantic flight of imagination in the style of William Blake (The Survivor, 1944).
Rewarded with prizes and major exhibitions in his adoptive country, Grosz felt the need in 1951 to return to Europe, which he crisscrossed until 1959. He thereafter decided to settle in Berlin, having been made honorary member of the Kunstacademie, but he died only weeks after his move.
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Art works from George Grosz
1George Grosz Sich Entkleidende mit Schleierhütchen (Femme au chapeau se déshabillant) , 1940 paper
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