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.
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,
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.
Later, during the 1930s his work - along
with that of fellow expressionists Kandinsky
(1866-1944), Emil Nolde (1867-1956), Paul
Klee (18791940), 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.
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),