George Grosz

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George Grosz was a prolific and renowned German artist who fueled great vitriolic social criticism with his paintings and caricatures.

George Grosz was born on July 26, 1893, in Berlin, Germany. His father, Karl Ehrenfried Grosz was an innkeeper, and his wife, Marie Wilhelmine Luise helped him with the upkeep and chores around the Inn. George was just seven years old when his father passed away, and his mother was faced with the burdensome and lonesome task of raising a boy all by herself. In 1902, George began his secondary school at Stolp, in Pomerania. In 1908, he was expelled from the school for assaulting a teacher who had struck him.

In 1909, he began his artistic education in Dresden, where he enrolled at the Royal Academy of Art to specialise in graphic art. In 1910, he began contributing his work to several satirical magazines and later, he moved to Berlin where he joined the graphic art course at the College of Arts and Crafts, and completed his artistic training till 1912. In 1913, he travelled to Paris where he spent several months at the studio of Colarossi and also began selling his caricatures to several magazines such as ‘Lustige Blatter’ and ‘Ulk’ among others. During this time, his art and drawings took their inspiration from his fascination with eroticism, crimes and orgies.

With the advent of WWI, George volunteered his services for the infantry, however, after being declared an invalid in 1915, he returned to Berlin and settled into a garret studio. At his studio, he began developing portraits and sketches of disfigured and injured war veterans, prostitutes and other symbols that depicted the ravages and atrocities of the war. In 1917, he was called back to the army to serve as a trainer, however, shortly after he had to be placed into a military asylum from where he was discharged as psychological unfit.

By 1918, the war had come to an end and George had developed a unique and distinctive style of intensely expressive and fiercely bold social caricature that set him apart. His experiences and first hand observations of the atrocities and tragedies caused by the ravages of the car and the developments that were taking place in the chaotic and unstable post-war Germany began to form the subject matter of his art and his drawings and sketches began to question and rebel against militarism, the disparity between rich and poor, Nazism, war profiteering and social decadence. Some of these drawings that include, ‘The Face of the Ruling Class’, and ‘Ecce Homo’ depict the greedy, exploitive and manipulative bourgeoisie as drinkers and lechers while the down-trodden factory labourers, poor and unemployed were shown as hollow-faced, miserable and hard on their luck.

Along with his friends, the notable German Dadaist brothers, Wieland Herzfelde and John Heartfield, George became an active member of the Berline Dada art movement. Shortly after, George also became increasingly involved with the Neue Sachlichkeit or the New Objectivity movement that placed great importance on the use of realism as a vital and essential tool of satirical social criticism. In 1933, he moved to the United States, where he began teaching at the Art Students League in New York. George’s work during this period is primarily characterized as nudes, landscapes and mainly cartoons for magazines. In 1938, he received his U.S citizenship.

In 1944, with the advent of WWII he produced ‘The Survivor’, which portrayed his pessimism and disillusionment with war and its atrocities. He produced a series of other depictions of the corrupt and tragic injustices done by the Nazis and the ravages of the war, and his war depictions became so famous, celebrated and threatening for the Nazis that they gave him the title, ‘Cultural Bolshevist Number One’.

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