Auction 1078, Modern Art, 02.12.2016, 18:00, Cologne Lot 225

George Grosz, Soirée

George Grosz, Soirée, 1922, Auction 1078 Modern Art, Lot 225

George Grosz

1893 - Berlin - 1959



Watercolour, pen and ink and pencil on firm paper with 3 perforated margins. 49.2 x 37.2 cm. Signed 'Grosz' in ink in old German lower right. - The colours very fresh, the paper slightly browned, a short professionally restored marginal tear to the right. Register marks in pencil in the corners.

With an expertise by Ralph Jentsch. The work is to be included in the catalogue raisonné of the works on paper by Gerorge Grosz.


Galerie Joseph Billiet & Cie, Paris; Belgian private possession (third generation)


Paris 1924 (Galerie Joseph Billiet & Cie), 1 re Exposition en France des Oeuvres de George Grosz, cat. no. 7 ("Soir")


Alexander Dückers, George Grosz - Das druckgraphische Werk, Frankfurt/Berlin/Wien 1979, p. 223, p. I, IX, aus: Sammelwerk "Ecce Homo", illus. p. 84; George Grosz, Ecce Homo, Berlin 1923 (reprint Hamburg 2011), full-page colour chart IX;

“Soirée” can in fact be referred to as an extraordinarily important sheet; it was created in Berlin during the best period in George Grosz's work and was published in colour and diffused that same year in the cultural historically and sociopolitically important portfolio “Ecce Homo”.

With Dadaesquely burlesque humour and a sizeable portion of cynicism, George Grosz deals with the horrors of the First World War and the human degradation that emerged so glaringly in the period of the Weimar Republic, particularly in a large city like Berlin. Synonymous with the “Roaring Twenties”, Berlin offered countless amusements: theatre, cabaret, concerts, restaurants and bars. It was a city that never rested. This is where Grosz found his motifs and dissected the hopeless state of affairs with a merciless gaze. War cripples and war profiteers, sailors and soldiers, the wealthy bosses of companies and cheated-on wives, crooks, pimps and easy girls are caricatured in a directly malicious manner; the amoral, abnormal and economically marginal are thus put on display here with meticulous precision and gleefully torn to shreds. The currency's devaluation proceeded after the war, the black market flourished and inflation climbed to an immeasurable level, but cash nonetheless continued to flow, glasses raised for a toast - Grosz's figures celebrate their having survived the war with a dogged pleasure in their own demise. It is not rare for domestic violence to end in a murderous crime of passion, which is described with the same blissful love of detail as the seemingly harmless restaurant scenes impressively exemplified by the present watercolour “Soirée”.

In the male-dominated evening gathering, a very emphatically gesticulating redhead stands out and provides a glimpse into the more than deeply cut back of her dress - framed, so to speak, by the backrest of the Thonet bentwood chair. The gentlemen at her table seem amused and animated, regardless of whether their faces are red from enjoying their alcohol or the stories told by the lady of the table.

Only the hand of the gentleman raising his glass towards her from the right side of the table indicates where the evening is to end. Apparently initially conceived by the artist as a cigar, the elongated form has not been further defined chromatically and remains the colour of the skin: a thumb stuck past the middle finger in a gesture that has been quite unambivalent since antiquity. This gesture is clearly to be associated in combination with the naked posterior and is meant to charge the scene with a buzzing eroticism. All of these events are visible only to the viewer, who thus becomes a kind of passive accomplice, in contrast to the entirely clueless guests of the dining establishment.

This large watercolour has been preserved in impeccable condition and with extraordinarily fresh colours, and it is of art historical and cultural historical significance. It was exhibited at the Parisian gallery Billiet as “Soir” and remained there (Ralph Jentsch in his expert report). In 1922/1923 this work was published - linguistically more pointedly - as “Soirée”, part of the sequence of 100 offset lithographed drawings and watercolours in the portfolio tellingly entitled “Ecce Homo”, which was released by Berlin's Malik-Verlag, run by Grosz's friends the brothers Wieland Herzfelde and John Heartfield. Here, in various complete and separate editions, works on paper created by Grosz between 1915 and 1922 are arranged in a loose sequence; 16 lithographs based on watercolours (provided with Roman numerals) are placed among 84 drawings (provided with Arabic numerals).

In December of 1923 the Berlin public prosecutor charged George Grosz and Wieland Herzfelde with “distributing obscene writings” and requested the confiscation of the entire work. In 1924 the Imperial Court in Leipzig upheld a 500 mark fine and the suppression of several works from the portfolio against the defendants' appeal. Looking back in 1930, George Grosz writes: “It was at that time I drew that indicted work, Ecce Homo ... which brought me a sentence for distributing indecent writings. This work is not about pornography at all. It is a document of that period of inflation … with its vices and its immorality ... in terms of its effect, it is just as brutal as the time that inspired me to create it.” (cited in: Ralph Jentsch, George Grosz: Berlin - New York, Arbeiten aus sechs Jahrzehnten, in: exhib. cat. George Grosz, Deutschland, ein Wintermärchen (Max Ernst Museum Brühl/Stiftung Ahlers Pro Arte/Kestner Pro Arte Hannover), p. 37).

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