George Grosz was a painter, provocateur, social critic and, according to his own testimony, “the saddest person in Europe”. The terrors of the First World War stayed with the German American artist his whole life and despite much success, in the last years of his life he considered his a failed existence. (...) Continue reading
George Grosz - Master student of Emil Orlik, formative war experiences
George Grosz was born Georg Ehrenfried Groß on 26 July 1893 in Berlin. The son of an innkeeper, he graduated from the Königliche Kunstakademie in Dresden and attended the Kunstgewerbeschule in Berlin where he was master student to Emil Orlik. He served as a volunteer in the grenadier regiment in the First World War, but less than a year later, surgery for a sinus enlargement resulted in his early discharge from military service. Before the end of the war, he changed his name to George Grosz and immediately made it known through the publication of several drawings in the literary magazine Die weißen Blätter (The White Sheets), for which Theodor Däubler was responsible. Further deployment in the Landsturm led to his final incapacitation in 1917 following a stay in a psychiatric hospital; soon after his release, the “Kleine Grosz-Mappe” was published by Malik in Berlin. In the same year, his early masterpiece Metropolis appeared, depicting the city of Berlin as a blood-red, apocalyptic-looking chaos. Alongside these early artistic successes, George Grosz was also involved in politics. His involvement in the January Uprising in 1919 almost led to his arrest which he was only able to avoid with the use of a forged passport. Grosz subsequently joined the German Communist Party.
Sharp-tongued critic of Weimar society
Together with Wieland Herzfelde and John Heartfield, George Grosz belonged to the founders of the young Dada scene in Berlin, and organised Dada evenings during the war with the Swiss Dada pioneer Richard Huelsenbeck in the Berlin Secession, events which consisted mainly of war protests, public insults and brawls. It was a good time for George Grosz, with his first solo exhibition in 1920 in the Munich gallery “Neue Kunst Hans Goltz”, his participation in the “First International Dada Fair”, and his marriage to Eva Louise Peter, with whom he had two sons. The social and political development of the Weimar Republic became an important subject for Grosz’ art; as a sharp-eyed chronicler and biting critic of militarism and conservative bourgeoisie, his often-poisonous caricatures frequently brought him into conflict with the authorities. In 1921, he was not only sentenced to a fine of 300 marks for insulting the Reichswehr, but also had to accept the destruction of his portfolio “Gott mit uns”. On a trip to Russia lasting several months alongside Martin Andersen Nexö, a meeting with Lenin and Trotsky reinforced his distrust of every form of dictatorship and led to his resignation from the German Communist Party
Emigration to the USA, great successes and descending star
Despite all opposition, George Grosz did not stop campaigning for his convictions and against obvious grievances. In 1924, he published the portfolio “Hunger” in aid of the ”International Hunger Relief”, together with seven other artists. In 1928 he participated in the creation of an animated film with a total of 300 drawings, whilst some of his drawings in his new portfolio “Hintergrund” brought him a charge of blasphemy. Grosz relocated to the USA just in time in 1933 - a few weeks later, the brown-clothed henchmen stormed his studio and his apartment. Grosz continued his previous activities in America and worked for various satirical magazines, created his usual pointed caricatures, and was finally granted American citizenship. An active exhibition schedule and the publication of his biography testify to the great reputation the artist enjoyed in his new homeland. His brilliance faded however in the 1950s. Although he became a member of the renowned “American Academy of Arts and Letters”, his art seemed dusty and outdated next to the new generation around Jackson Pollock.
George Grosz died on 6 July 1959 in Berlin, where he had returned only a short time before.
George Grosz - Works that have already been sold at Kunsthaus Lempertz: