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George Ehrenfried Grosz

 (1893 - 1959)
George Ehrenfried Grosz was active/lived in New York, Massachusetts / Germany.  George Grosz is known for political satire and caricature, Dada expression, educator.

George Ehrenfried Grosz

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Biography from the Archives of askART

Biography photo for George Ehrenfried Grosz
Best known for his Dada art and caustically satirical caricature works, Georg Ehrenfried Gross was born in Berlin in 1893, later changing his name to George Grosz.  Some consider him to be perhaps the most outstanding caricaturist and political satirist of the period following World War I.

His father was Karl Ehrenfried Gross, an innkeeper, and his mother's name was Marie Wilhelmine Luise.  When George was only seven his father died.  He and his mother then lived alternately in Berlin and Stolp, Pomerania (now Poland), where Georg started secondary school in 1902.  In 1908 he was expelled from school for disobedience (allegedly for returning a blow he had received from a trainee teacher).

He passed the entrance exam to study at the Royal Academy of Art in Dresden where he specialized in graphic art, and as early as 1910 became involved with satirical magazines.

In 1912, Grosz (then Gross) joined the graphic art course at the College of Arts and Crafts in Berlin.  In 1913 he spent several months in Paris at Colarossi's studio.  The main subjects of his drawings of that period were crimes, orgies, and erotic subjects. Some of his cartoons were published in periodicals.  He also did his first book illustrations and began painting in oils.

With the outbreak of World War I, he volunteered, and served briefly as an infantryman, but was discharged from the army several months later following a surgical operation.  About 1916, he began to portray with biting satire the militarism and ruthlessness of the ruling classes.

In Berlin in 1917, he joined the Dada movement, which was essentially a protest against war and exploitation, and a call for a new humanism.  By 1918 he was considered by many to be Germany's leading social critic in the field of the visual arts.  His works demonstrating pity for the underdog and hatred of capitalism penetrated deep into the consciousness of the postwar mentality of a Germany suffering with inflation and political failure.

In 1916, in protest against nationalism and patriotism, he altered his name to George Grosz. During this period in Berlin, Grosz met various authors, artists, and intellectuals, among them those with whom he would found the Berlin Dada in 1917.

Following the revolution in Russia, an artists' association, the 'November Group', was established in Berlin in 1918.  Grosz joined it, soon after becoming a member of the Communist Party. In 1919 he started a magazine called "Die Pleite'.  His drawings, which were critical of bourgeois society, appeared in various publications, and his work often aroused scandals.

In 1920, Grosz visited Italy, and in 1922 he spent six months in Russia.  The trip disillusioned him, and, feeling out of step with Russia's politics, Grosz resigned from the Communist party in 1923.  The next year, however, he became a leader of Berlin's Rote Gruppe (Red group), an organization of revolutionary Communist artists.

About 1925, he approached in his paintings a style that was fully realistic and was called the Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity), a reaction to the expressionist trends of the era.

In his drawings, usually in pen and ink, which he sometimes developed further with watercolor, Grosz contributed to a perception much of the world had of Berlin in the 1920s, including corpulent businessmen, wounded soldiers, prostitutes, and orgies. His draftsmanship was excellent although the works he is best known for adopt a deliberately crude form of caricature.  In 1921 his album Gott mit uns (God with us) brought Grosz charges of defaming the Reichswehr (army). 

In 1924, he was prosecuted for offences against public morality for his work titled Ecce Homo, which was confiscated as being pornographic.  He was accused of blasphemy in 1928 for a drawing titled Shut Up and Keep Serving the Cause.  All these scandals only helped increase his fame.

In 1931, a writer for the periodical Eulenspiegel wrote: "No other German artist so consciously used art as a weapon in the fight of the German workers during 1919 to 1923 as did George Grosz.  He is one of the first artists in Germany who consciously placed art in the service of society."

He was bitterly anti-Nazi, and Grosz's reputation as a political activist and deflator of German greatness was no secret.  Premonitions of disaster began to haunt him.  In his autobiography he recalled: "a studio assistant appeared in a brown shirt one day and warned him to be careful; another time he found a threatening note next to his easel, calling him a Jew."  When in the spring of 1932 a cable arrived from the Art Students League in New York inviting him to teach there during the summer, he accepted immediately.  After a short return to Germany, he learned his apartment and studio had been searched by the Gestapo, who were looking for him.  He emigrated in January 1933, together with his wife and two sons.

In the United States, both his works and behavior changed radically---no more attacks on society, or focus on class struggle.  This resignation was not entirely sincere, however, as he later wrote in his autobiography: "My motto was now to give offence to none and be pleasing to all… Anyone who plans to get ahead and make money would do well to have no character at all.  The second rule for fitting in is to think everything beautiful!  Everything,  that is to say, including things that are not beautiful in reality."

Grosz taught at the Art Students League into the 1950s.  He also had a private art school, where his students were mainly society ladies.  From 1937 to 1939, he was the recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship, which enabled him to devote time to his own work.  He was not rich, but was comfortable.  In 1937, he was included in the noted German exhibition of 'degenerate' art, and in 1938 was stripped of his German citizenship.  He became an American citizen, and the Nazis burned numerous works by him.

In 1944, he painted Cain, or Hitler in Hell, showing the dead attacking Hitler in hell. During this period he also worked as Artist in Residence at the Des Moines Art Center.

Grosz's artistic works during his American period are considered by some to be less important than his teaching activities and his autobiography, A Little Yes and Big No, published in 1946.  Grosz taught at the School of Fine Arts, Columbia University (1941-1942).  For a short time he painted landscapes and figural compositions with nudes, but he soon returned to works in a social realist mode.

In 1954, Grosz was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters and in 1958 to the Academy of Fine Arts of Germany.  His last works in America were collages, which partly recall his Dada period and partly were influenced by Pop Art.

Grosz returned to Germany permanently in 1958, somewhat disillusioned with his American interlude, having been appreciated in America primarily as a satirist.  He returned to his homeland in an attempt to regain the momentum he had lost, but died in Berlin in a drinking-related accident six weeks after his return.

In 1960, Grosz was the subject of an Oscar-nominated short film titled George Grosz's Interregnum.

websites: Olga's Gallery;;;

Biography from Auctionata
The Berlin-born Georg Ehrenfried Groß, later George Grosz, first attended the Academy of Arts in Dresden.  In 1912, he returned to his hometown, where he continued his art studies under Emil Orlik.  A year later, he went to Paris, where he attended the Académie Colarossi.  In 1915, Groß met Helmut Herzfeld (John Heartfield) and, like Herzfeld, anglicized his name.  Along with the Herzfeld brothers, he founded the Malik publishing company.  In 1918, Grosz was one of the founders of ‘Dada Berlin’.

In the subsequent years, the artist dealt primarily with the theme of the big city and the German bourgeois society, which he portrayed with socio-critical and ironical punch.  Grosz was the editor of several satirical magazines and developed collage and photomontage along with John Heartfield. 

In 1933, he moved to the United States.  Here he taught at the Art Students League in New York as well as the Art School of the Columbia University and opened an art school along with Maurice Sterne.  In his late work, George Grosz turned to landscape and nude painting.

Biography from Galerie St. Etienne
Born in Berlin, George Grosz spent his early life moving with his mother to and from Stolp, where he began private drawing lessons in 1901, after his the death of his father. He was expelled from school in 1908, but in 1909 entered the Royal Academy in Dresden, from which he graduated with honors. 

Although a large part of Grosz's work attacks the military, the artist initially volunteered for the army in 1914.  After a year at the Front, he suffered a nervous breakdown, which he saw as a physical and psychological revolt against military violence.  In 1917, he was drafted back into the army, but avoided actual service, spending time in a sanitarium instead.  It was also during this year that the Malik Verlag began publishing his graphic works.  Around the time of the 1918 November Revolution, Grosz focused his pictorial attack on what he later termed "The Pillars of Society": the military, the clergy, and above all, the middle class.

It was during this period that Grosz joined the Dada movement, the German Communist Party (KPD), and the Internationale Arbeiterhilfe, through which he had contact with fellow members Otto Dix and Käthe Kollwitz.  Due to a mistrust of ideology in general, Grosz was not a very active member of the KPD, but he did remain loyal to the party for several years.

When asked to create pro-KPD posters, Grosz left in order to avoid turning his art into propaganda.  This break coincided with a 1922 visit to Moscow, where Grosz was disillusioned by the numerous social problems he saw in the Soviet Union. However, he remained a committed socialist, and in 1924, he became a leader of the Rote Gruppe, an organization of left-wing, socially conscious artists.

Grosz's constant satirical attacks on the rampant corruption in capitalist society got him into legal trouble.  In 1920, his portfolio God on Our Side was confiscated, and Grosz was arrested and fined for attacking the military.  Two years later, he was fined again, this time for the defamation of public morals in his portfolio Ecce Homo.

Grosz also seems to have been acutely aware of the danger of the Nazi Party.  As early as 1925, he began ruthlessly ridiculing Adolf Hitler and issuing increasingly strong warnings about the danger of Nazism.  By 1929, the political climate in Germany had swung right, and Grosz became endangered.

In 1933, as the Nazi party was voted into power, Grosz traveled to the United Stated to teach; he ended up sending for his family and becoming a citizen in 1938.  Though Grosz was out of physical danger, his art remained under attack.  In 1937, several of his works were hung in the "Degenerate Art" exhibit sponsored by the Nazi government. Grosz remained in the United States until 1958, when he returned to Germany; he died the following year in Berlin.

Biography from Susan L. Halper Fine Art Inc
Grosz was a keen political observer.  He satirized the military, the bourgoisie and the clergy in oils, watercolors and prints as well as theatre productions.  He was active in Berlin in the 1920s and 30s and came to America because of the political climate there.  He returned to Germany with his wife at the end of his life.

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About  George Ehrenfried Grosz

Born:  1893 - Berlin, Germany
Died:   1959 - Berlin, Germany
Known for:  political satire and caricature, Dada expression, educator