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George Grosz: Enemy of the State

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George Grosz: Enemy of the State


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Dramatised documentary about the life of the painter George Grosz.  

Grosz' caricatures and paintings provided some of the most vitriolic social criticism of his time. So famous and threatening were Grosz’s depictions of war and corruption that the Nazis designated him “Cultural Bolshevist Number One.” A French critic called his work “the most definitive catalog of man’s depravity in all history.” 

After studying art in Dresden and Berlin from 1909 to 1912, Grosz sold caricatures to magazines and spent time in Paris during 1913. When World War I broke out, he volunteered for the infantry, but he was invalided in 1915 and moved into a garret studio in Berlin. There he sketched prostitutes, disfigured veterans, and other personifications of the ravages of war. In 1917 he was recalled to the army as a trainer, but shortly thereafter he was placed in a military asylum and was discharged as unfit.

By the war’s end in 1918, Grosz had developed an unmistakable graphic style that combined a highly expressive use of line with ferocious social caricature. Out of his wartime experiences and his observations of chaotic postwar Germany grew a series of drawings savagely attacking militarism, war profiteering, the gulf between rich and poor, social decadence, and Nazism. In drawing collections such as The Face of the Ruling Class (1921) and Ecce Homo (1922), Grosz depicts fat Junkers, greedy capitalists, smug bourgeoisie, drinkers, and lechers—as well as hollow-faced factory labourers, the poor, and the unemployed.

At this time Grosz belonged to the Berlin Dada art movement, having befriended the German Dadaist brothers Wieland Herzfelde and John Heartfield in 1915. Gradually, Grosz became associated with the Neue Sachlichkeit (“New Objectivity”) movement, which embraced realism as a tool of satirical social criticism.

After immigrating to the United States in 1933 to teach at the Art Students League in New York City, Grosz’s work became less misanthropic, as he drew magazine cartoons, nudes, and landscapes. He became a U.S. citizen in 1938. During World War II he showed his old pessimism in sharply coloured, teeming canvases such as The Survivor (1944). 

George Grosz was a German artist and member of the New Objectivity movement. The artist’s paintings, drawings, and prints critiqued the politics and society of his day with incisive humor. “I was arrogant enough to call myself a natural scientist, not a painter, nor, heaven forbid, a satirist,” he once reflected. “But in reality I myself was everybody I drew, the rich man favored by fate, stuffing himself and guzzling champagne, as much as the one who stood outside in the pouring rain holding out his hand.”

His best-known artworks were depictions of the dark side of German metropolitan life at the time.

Emigrating to the United States in 1933, he barely escaped Germany before Hitler became Chancellor. Seeing the devastation of both World War I and II disheartened the artist, and his work shifted towards a softer style through the following decades. He died shortly after returning to Berlin, Germany on July 6, 1959 at the age of 65. Today, his works are held in the collections of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the Tate Gallery in London, The Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid, among others.

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