George Grosz once said, Ð²Ð‚ÑšI thought the war would never end. And perhaps it never did, either.Ð²Ð‚Ñœ Grosz took his feelings of the war and expressed them through his crude caricatures, illustrations, paintings, and poems. Grosz was an important member of the Dada movement. He engaged in touchy subjects during World War I such as: the deceitfulness of the government, prostitution, fat businessmen, sex crimes, Nazism, poverty, wounded soldiers, and other terror during the war.
Grosz was born Georg Ehrenfried Gross in July of 1893, in Berlin. He received his education at the Dresden Art Academy. He first started his famous caricatures in 1910 which he had published in a few German journals. He graduated with honors in 1911. From 1912-1917 he continued his artistic education at a school that was attached to the Museum of Applied Arts in Berlin (nga.gov). In 1913 he started to develop his skill of rapid sketching in a class he took where models would change their poses every few minutes. That class encouraged him to draw even more and so he began to carry a small sketchbook everywhere he went. He often enjoyed sketching people on busy streets of Berlin. His later work was usually done with just pen and ink. Sometimes he would develop them further with watercolors. For example in his 1920 illustration known as Ð²Ð‚ÑšThe Convict,Ð²Ð‚Ñœ which some say is a prisoner in his cell (fig. 1). He also used oils and he even wrote poetry.Order now
Grosz was enlisted in the military in Berlin in 1914. While in the Berlin army he met John Heartifeld and Wieland Herzfelde. Later on Grosz and Heartfield collaborated many times. Grosz was released six months later due to minor head and hand injuries. In 1916 as an antinationalistic protest he changed his name, he wanted it to be a more Americanized name. He and Heartfield did this together. During his time at the war he continued to draw. According to Grosz:
I drew soldiers without noses; war cripples with crab-like limbs of steel; two medical orderlies tying a violent infantryman up in a horse blanket; a one-armed soldier using his good hand to salute a heavily bemedalled lady who had just passed him a biscuit; a colonel, his fly wide open, embracing a nurse; a hospital orderly emptying a bucket full of pieces of human flesh down a pit. (Autobiography)
In 1917, Grosz began protesting with Hearield against the German wartime propaganda campaign against their allies. Grosz created a series of anti-war drawings such as Fit for Active Service, drawn in 1918 (fig. 2). The illustration is of a pretty well fed doctor who is examining a skeleton and declares him as fit for duty.
Grosz was later re-enlisted in the army in 1917 and shortly after he tried to commit suicide. He was normally known as a very kind man but when he got into alcohol he turned violent and suicidal. Although he was very busy during the war he still found time to draw. Grosz was especially angry with the war. When drawing his caricatures, Grosz seemed to be especially interested in exaggerating peopleÐ²Ð‚™s flaws. Grosz was extremely pessimistic about humanity. He never made anyone look particularly handsome or beautiful in his caricatures. Common subjects in his caricatures are fat businessmen smoking cigars (fig. 3). In 1919 Grosz and Herzfelde collaborated and created photomontages as well as satirical journals, which were later banned by authorities. Grosz joined the German Communist party in 1919 and then in 1924 he became a leader of BerlinÐ²Ð‚™s Red Chair group.
In later years during the rise of the NaziÐ²Ð‚™s he fled to America where he eventually became an American citizen. While in America he exhibited some of his work. He also began to create new pieces but they were far different from his earlier pieces and not as well liked. The new pieces were a lot more conservative and had a very little amount of anger that was shown in his older illustrations. Grosz returned to Berlin in 1959 but shortly thereafter he died from the effects of falling down a flight of stairs after he had been drinking.
Grosz was a very important member of the Dada movement. He helped expose not only the horrors of the war to the public but also the issues of the lies of the government, poverty and Nazism. He made anti-war drawings what they are today. Anytime you see a fat businessman smoking a cigar in your morning paper the illustrator was probably influenced by Grosz.