From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
George Grosz (born Georg Ehrenfried Groß; July 26, 1893 – July 6, 1959) was a German artist known especially for his caricatural drawings and paintings of Berlin life in the 1920s. He was a prominent member of the Berlin Dada and New Objectivity group during the Weimar Republic. He immigrated to the United States in 1933, and became a naturalized citizen in 1938. Abandoning the style and subject matter of his earlier work, he exhibited regularly and taught for many years at the Art Students League of New York. In 1959 he returned to Berlin where he died.
Grosz is known especially for his savagely caricatural drawings of Berlin life in the 1920s Weimar culture. He also worked with photomontage and is recognized as a major artist of the grotesque. His works were ridiculed at the degenerate art exhibition in Munich in 1937. His essays were banned by the Nazis. In his drawings, usually in pen and ink which he sometimes developed further with watercolor, Grosz did much to create the image most have of Berlin and the Weimar Republic in the 1920s. Corpulent businessmen, wounded soldiers, prostitutes, sex crimes and orgies were his great subjects. His draftsmanship was excellent although the works he is best known for adopt a deliberately crude form of caricature. His oeuvre includes a few absurdist works, such as "Remember Uncle August the Unhappy Inventor" which has buttons sewn on it. His 1946 autobiography A Little Yes and a Big No was published in the United States by The Dial Press.
Trewin Copplestone noted that he was a "deeply disillusioned man, he saw humanity as essentially bestial and the city of Berlin as a sink of depravity and deprivation, its streets crowded with unprincipled profiteers, prostitutes, war-crippled dregs and a variety of perverts. A communist, his feeling of social outrage stimulated him to produce the most biting drawings and paintings." and Robert Hughes remarked that "in Grosz's Germany, everything and everybody is for sale. All human transactions, except for the class solidarity of the workers, are poisoned. The world is owned by four breeds of pig: the capitalist, the officer, the priest and the hooker, whose other form is the sociable wife. He was one of the hanging judges of art."
George Grosz was born Georg Ehrenfried Groß in Berlin, Germany but changed his name in 1916 out of a romantic enthusiasm for America that originated in his early reading of the books of James Fenimore Cooper, Bret Harte and Karl May, and which he retained for the rest of his life. (His artist friend and collaborator Helmut Herzfeld changed his name to John Heartfield at the same time.)
In 1914 Grosz volunteered for military service; like many other artists, he embraced the first world war as "the war to end all wars", but he was quickly disillusioned and was given a discharge after hospitalization in 1915. In January 1917 he was drafted for service, but in May he was discharged as permanently unfit.
Grosz was arrested during the Spartakus uprising in January 1919, but escaped using fake identification documents; he joined the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) in the same year. In 1921 Grosz was accused of insulting the army, which resulted in a 300 German Mark fine and the destruction of the collection Gott mit uns ("God with us"), a satire on German society. Grosz left the KPD in 1922 after having spent five months in Russia and meeting Lenin and Trotsky, because of his antagonism to any form of dictatorial authority.
In his drawings, usually in pen and ink which he sometimes developed further with watercolor, Grosz did much to create the image most have of Berlin and the Weimar Republic in the 1920s. Corpulent businessmen, wounded soldiers, prostitutes, sex crimes and orgies were his great subjects. His draftsmanship was excellent although the works he is best known for adopt a deliberately crude form of caricature. His oeuvre includes a few absurdist works, such as "Remember Uncle August the Unhappy Inventor" which has buttons sewn on it,
Bitterly anti-Nazi, Grosz left Germany in 1932, a year before Hitler came to power, and was invited to teach at the Art Students League of New York in 1933, where he would teach intermittently until 1955. He became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1938. Although a softening of his style had been apparent since the late 1920s, Grosz's work turned toward a sentimental romanticism in America, a change generally seen as a decline.
He continued to exhibit regularly. He painted Cain, or Hitler in Hell (1944), showing the dead attacking Hitler in Hell, and in 1946 he published his autobiography, A Little Yes and a Big No. In the 1950s he opened a private art school at his home and also worked as Artist in Residence at the Des Moines Art Center. Grosz was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1954. Though he had US citizenship, he resolved to return to Berlin, where he died on 6 July 1959 from the effects of falling down a flight of stairs after a night of drinking.
In 1960, Grosz was the subject of the Oscar-nominated short film George Grosz' Interregnum.
- "My art was to be a gun & a sword; my drawing pens I declared to be empty straws as long as they did not take part in the fight for freedom."
- "My aim is to be understood by everyone. I reject the 'depth' that people demand nowadays, into which you can never descend without a diving bell crammed with cabbalistic bullshit and intellectual metaphysics. This expressionistic anarchy has got to stop... a day will come when the artist will no longer be this bohemian, puffed-up anarchist but a healthy man working in clarity within a collectivist society."