Progression of Art
The Faith Healers
This work, also known by the title Fit for Active Service, depicts a doctor inspecting a skeleton with an ear trumpet, pronouncing him "KV" (short for kriegsverwendungsfahig, or "fit for combat"). Unconcerned with the diagnosis, the surrounding officers appear either bored or absorbed in other matters. The scene refers to the desperate recall of discharged soldiers toward the end of war, after the German forces suffered heavy losses. Grosz himself had been forced to return to the front in 1917, only to be released four months later for mental illness, lending the subject a great deal of personal significance. Grosz's penchant for grotesquerie is indebted to the precedent set by the German Gothic tradition, which he often looked to as a source of inspiration. Grosz is best known for his drawings and works on paper, and The Faith Healers is an exemplary work of his highly politically charged style that overlaps with the ideals of both Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) and the Berlin Dada group.
Ink and brush - Museum of Modern Art, New York
A Funeral: Tribute to Oskar Panizza
Dedicated to the writer and psychiatrist Oskar Panizza, who was known for his witty criticisms against the state, A Funeral is a statement of Grosz's feelings of disgust and frustration toward German society during the tumult that followed World War I. The chaotic procession of distorted figures, painted in shades of dark red and black, seems to take place in a hellish chasm between precariously slanted buildings. The dense, collage-like technique, which draws from Cubism and Futurism, adds to the sense of claustrophobia by layering multiple scenes in a shallow space. In a letter, Grosz described his composition as a "gin alley of grotesque dead bodies and madmen.... A teeming throng of possessed human animals... think: that wherever you step, there's the smell of shit." This vivid description conveys Grosz's passionate opposition against the direction of the German administration following World War I. The synthesis of inspiration from both modern and traditional sources is typical of Grosz's work as well as that of the larger Neue Sachlichkeit movement.
Oil on canvas - Stattsgalerie Stuttgart, Germany
Daum Marries Her Pedantic Automaton "George" in May 1920. John Heartfield is very glad of it.
After several years of courtship, Grosz married Eva Peter, whom he met while taking classes at the School of Arts and Crafts in 1916. Nicknamed Maud (the anagram of "Daum") by Grosz, her character appears hesitant, even afraid, despite her seductive state of undress. Grosz is depicted as a robot, a central Dadaist motif that redefined the artist as machine. Wieland Herzfelde, the publisher of many of Grosz's portfolios, attempted to unravel the subject of the painting by explaining marriage as a condition that "comes between the bride and groom like a shadow, this fact that, at the very moment when the wife is allowed to make known her secret desire and reveal her body, her husband turns to other soberly pedantic arithmetical problems..." Grosz emphasized the cold, impersonal quality of the automaton with his use of collage. The anonymous - but oddly constructed background furthers the sense of alienation, a common theme in modernist art of the early-20th century - but here that lack of emotion is not necessarily a negative quality.
Pencil, pen, brush and ink, watercolor and collage - Berlinische Galerie, Berlin Landesmuseum fur Moderne Kunst
Germany: A Winter's Tale
Germany: A Winter's Tale, is close in style and composition to A Funeral: Tribute to Oskar Panizza(1917-18), which was created in the same time period. Both reference the shattered space of Cubism and the motion of Futurism. Grosz utilizes allegory throughout in order to maximize the impact of each figure and object within the tumultuous space of the painting. In the center, a man representative of the bourgeoisie readies himself to consume a meal, while a riot of bodies swirls around his head. The three figures at the bottom represent the church, state, and school, all of which spoon-feed their ideals to the receptive man. Those in control studiously ignore the resulting chaos, represented by figures such as the sailor, who Grosz declared to be a symbol of revolution. A Winter's Tale was named after a poem by Heinrich Heine, a darkly comedic work that was banned at the time of its 1844 publication due to its perceptive criticism of German society. Grosz acknowledged the German tradition of critical literature and aligned it with the visual arts tradition, while presenting a modern visual satire.
Oil on canvas - Whereabouts unknown
Life and work in Universal City, 12:05 Noon
George Grosz and John Heartfield collectively founded photomontage, the practice of cutting up and piecing together different photographs and re-photographing the result to make an entirely new image. In this joint effort by both artists, Grosz's original sketches have been obliterated by an explosion of collaged images that make reference to popular culture in the United States, or the "Universal City." Although meant to be illogical and random, the composition is organized into a procession of figures moving from the upper right to the lower left and set against a row of tall buildings, similar to A Funeral: Tribute to Oskar Panizza(1917-18). This compositional relationship suggests the Dadaist construction of Life and Work in Universal City was actually the result of a natural stylistic progression from Cubism and Futurism, utilizing modernist visual techniques in a new medium with a highly critical message.
Shut Your Mouth and Keep on Serving
Intended to criticize the bourgeoisie for their eagerness to go to war again while professing to worship the "Prince of Peace," Shut Up and Keep on Serving is a blatant accusation of hypocrisy. The image led to a trial against Grosz and his publisher, Wieland Herzfelde, who were both accused of blasphemy. Originating from set designs that Grosz created for a stage production of The Adventures of the Good Soldier Schwejk(1928), a popular satirical novel that takes place during World War I, the drawing was published as part of the Hintergrund portfolio(1928) on the day of the play's premiere. Photogravure, a print process that involves using a glass plate covered with a light-sensitive chemical, provided a cost-effective way to reproduce the drawing. This image chastises German society's march toward World War II, deploying religious imagery to incite anger in the viewer. The image and its message firmly align with the highly politicized publications of the Berlin Dada group, of which Herzfelde was the primary publisher. Reversing the historic tradition of Christian reverential art in Europe, Grosz uses the image of Christ for the modern means of social critique and judgment.
Drawing, Photogravure print reproduction - Schiller-Nationalmuseum, Deutsches Literaturarchiv, Marbach am Neckar
Painted the year after World War II ended, Peace, II, conveys Grosz's grim vision of the war's aftermath. Having witnessed the horrors of World War I in person, as well as its fallout while still in Germany, Grosz clearly held the pessimistic opinion that true peace could not be achieved in the modern world. Regarding the Treaty of Versailles and the resolution of WWI, he stated, "Peace was declared, but not all of us were drunk with joy or stricken blind." His view of humanity's tendency toward destruction proved true, and after a second World War, only his style had changed. This is one in a group of paintings that he executed during the war that shares similar apocalyptic imagery, swirling compositions, and haunting allegorical figures. He no longer satirized the bourgeoisie and capitalists, but instead portrayed a bleak future. Grosz presents the viewer with a central skeletal figure striding out of what remains of a bombed-out building, with detritus piled high on every side. The lone figure emerging from the depiction of a modern, 20th century hell-mouth comments on the outcome of war as well as the possibility of peace in the future. Grosz's art had shifted away from political content in his early years in New York, but he could not remain impartial during the travesty of World War II. This painting is far more expressionistic than any of his earlier work and is indebted to the tradition of Romanticism, evident in the dramatic composition that dwarfs the singular, grim figure striding amidst the rubble, the palette, and the jagged forms.
Oil on canvas - The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY