George Grosz
Biography of German Expressionist Painter.

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Pillars of Society (1926)
Staatliche Museum, Berlin
Masterpiece of German Expressionism.

George Grosz (1893–1959)


Art Studies
Berlin Dada
Early Paintings
Satirical Caricatures
Degenerate Art

Made in Germany (1919)
MOMA, New York.
Pen and Ink Drawing.

See: Modern Artists.


German Expressionist painter, caricaturist, graphic artist, and an early user of photomontage, George Grosz was a founding member of the Berlin Dada (with Raoul Hausmann and Helmut Herzfelde), and later a prominent member of the New Objectivity Group (Die Neue Sachlichkeit) (with Otto Dix) during the 1920s. One of the best known German expressionist painters, he is best known for his anti-war drawings, and his satirical caricature of Berlin's citizens, especially the officials and profiteers who lived off the First World War. Famous works of Expressionism by George Grosz include Fit For Active Service (1918, MoMA New York), Dedication to Oskar Panizza (1918, Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart), The Face of the Ruling Class (1921), Pillars of Society (1926, Staatliche Museum, Berlin), Berlin Street Scene (1930, Private Collection). Grosz left Germany in 1933, shortly after which his works were labelled degenerate art, and moved to America to teach in New York. He became an American citizen in 1938.

For other expressionist works like,
those produced by Grosz, see:
Greatest 20th-Century Paintings.

For top creative practitioners, see:
Best Artists of All Time.
For the greatest portraitists
see: Best Portrait Artists.
For the greatest genre-painting, see:
Best Genre Painters.
For the top allegorical painting,
see: Best History Painters.


Art Studies

Grosz was born, Georg Ehrenfried Gross in Berlin in 1893. He anglicized his name to George Grosz in 1916, in protest against anti-British propaganda. His contemporary, artist Helmut Herzfelde changed also changed his name at the same time to John Heartfield. Before the War, Grosz trained at the Dresden Royal Academy of Art, specialising in Graphic Art. From 1910 onwards his cartoons began to appear in Berlin newspapers and publications. In 1912 he moved to the capital and studied Graphic Arts at the College of Arts and Crafts. In 1913, just before the outbreak of World War I, Grosz spent a few months in Paris studying at the Colarossi Academy. The Academy was established in the 1870s by the Italian sculptor Filippo Colarossi, as an alternative to the more traditional French Academy of Fine Arts. Other notable graduates of the Academy include Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) and Hans Hofmann (1880-1966).

Between 1914 and 1915 Grosz served in the German army but suffered a nervous breakdown and was discharged. At this time he started creating political drawings and other illustration for left-wing magazines. He also illustrated his first book and created his first major series of lithography which, he wrote, were 'realistic and satirical, portraying cosmopolitan life as a rat-race moderated only by stupidity'.


Berlin Dada

In 1918 Grosz became friendly with fellow artists like the Herzfeld brothers, with whom he collaborated on satirical publications, theatre sets, puppets and collages. Along with others artists they formed the Berlin Dada Group in 1917. Dadaism was a nihilist cultural movement that began in Zurich Switzerland during the War and peaked in 1922. The movement mainly involved visual art, but also extended to graphic design, set design, poetry and literature. Essentially an anti-art movement, its purpose was to ridicule prevailing standards in art, and was anarchistic in nature. The movement went on to influence modern styles such as Surrealism, New Realism and Pop Art. The Berlin Dada Group, was not as anti-art as most other groups. They were more concerned with political and social activities, and focused their attention on satire and public demonstrations. Members of the Berlin Dada group, in addition to Grosz and the Herzfeld brothers were Raoul Hausmann, Hannah Hoch and Johannes Baader. Together with John Heartfield, Grosz developed the technique of photomontage during this time, which the Nazi party would use in future propaganda. In 1920 the Berlin Dadaists held the First International Dada Fair, which included works by Otto Dix (1891-1969), Francis Picabia (1879-1953), Rudolf Schlichter, Max Ernst (1891-1976), and Jean Arp (1888-1966). Over 200 art works were exhibited, but there was only one recorded sale.

Early Paintings

Although Grosz was interested in various art mediums, it was oil painting that was rapidly beginning to preoccupy him. He made his first oil paintings in 1912, while still studying, but his style which is identified today was formulated around 1916. His paintings from this time show influences of German Expressionism and Futurism. A good example is Dedication to Oskar Panizza (1918, Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart); which shows a nightmare vision of a city. The composition is formed of overlapping scenes, which gives the painting a feeling of reality, yet has fragments of a nightmare. The Italian Futurists had an exhibition in 1913 at the Sturm Gallery, Berlin founded by Herwarth Walden (1879-1941). Grosz visited the exhibition and their influence is clearly demonstrated in this painting. Other paintings from this early period include: Suicide (1916, Tate Gallery, London); Lovesick (1916, private collection); The City (1916, Thyssen Bornemisza Collection, Madrid); and Explosion (1917, The Museum of Modern Art, New York). Grosz also created some powerful watercolour paintings including The White Slaver (1918, Hessisches Landesmuseum, Darmstadt) and Beauty, Thee Will I Praise (1919, Galerie Nierendorf, Berlin).

Satirical Caricatures

In the 1920s after leaving Dada, Grosz continued to paint in a realistic manner, and soon became known internationally for his satirical caricature. As one of Germany's most significant critical artists, he expressed the extremes of the Weimar Republic in a raw and unforgiving manner. He painted invalid soldiers, fat cigar-smoking bourgeois business men and prostitutes. In 1926 Grosz produced his first major work, Pillars of Society (Staatliche Museum, Berlin). This was essentially a denunciation of militarism, the press, a corrupt clergy, monarchists and nationalists: all were depicted running around like headless, brainless chickens - and yet despite this, they were the ruling class - still active in warmongering activities. Grosz' style displayed echoes of German printmaker and artist Albrecht Durer. He claimed to want to create history paintings, reflective of society in the manner of William Hogarth. Other works from the 1920s include: Republica Automatons (1920, watercolour, Museum of Modern Arts, New York); Grey Day (1921, oil on canvas, Staatsliche Museum, Berlin); Methusalem (1922, watercolour, Museum of Modern Arts); Dusk (1922, watercolour, Staatliche Museum); and The Agitator (1928, oil, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam).


Grosz' political commentary, through the written word and his paintings, constantly brought him into lively exchanges with the cultural elite. It brought him a fame which led the Alfred Flechtheim gallery to represent him in 1925. At the same time, Grosz started to receive portrait commissions. Examples include Portrait of the Writer Walter Mehring (1925, Koninklijk Museum, Antwerp) and Portrait of the Writer Max Herrmann-Neisse (1925, Staatliche Kunsthalle, Mannheim). Grosz created his portrait art using a glazing technique, borrowed from the Renaissance Masters, which he had oberserved being used by Otto Dix. Grosz did not employ his usual caricature style in his portrait paintings: instead, he rendered his sitters with a sharp realism, in the style of New Objectivity (Neue Sachlichkeit). Grosz had spent a summer in 1922 in Russia which only confirmed his opinion that all abstract art was useless, and that art should hold an immediate social message. This led to him being put on trial at least three times in Berlin for disseminating 'obscene' images.

Degenerate Art

Later, during the 1930s his work - along with that of fellow expressionists Kandinsky (1866-1944), Emil Nolde (1867-1956), Paul Klee (1879–1940), Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938), Franz Marc (1880-1916), Oskar Kokoschka (1886-1980), Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920), Max Beckmann (1884-1950), Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948), and Marc Chagall (1887-1985) - was labelled degenerate art (entartete kunst) by the Nazis and banned.


In 1932 Grosz was a visiting tutor at the Arts Students League in New York. The following year, when the Nazis came to power in Germany, he emigrated. He continued to teach at the League until 1955. In 1938 he acquired American citizenship. His autobiography A Little Yes and a Big No was published in 1946. In America, far away from the political turmoil of Europe, his work softened. He created affectionate caricatures of New Yorkers and painted conventional landscapes in oils and watercolours. Grosz wrote in his autobiography: 'A great deal that had become frozen within me in Germany melted here in America and I rediscovered my old yearning for painting. I carefully and deliberately destroyed a part of my past'. His work in America was never viewed as being as powerful as his earlier German works. In 1954 Grosz revisited Germany, and again in 1958 when he was made an Honorary Member of the Academy of Fine Art. In 1959 he moved back to Berlin, but died shortly after.


Expressionist paintings by George Grosz can be seen in the best art museums in Germany and around the world, including, the Kunsthalle in Hamburg, the Staatliche Museum in Berlin, the Staatsgalerie in Stuttgart, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, the Thyssen Bornemisza Collection in Madrid, and Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

• For more biographies of German Expressionist artists, see: Famous Painters.
• For details of major art periods/movements, see: History of Art.
• For more information about modern expressionism, see: Homepage.

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