ONE of the most eminent artists of modern Germany was condemned, in his
early years, to a life of squalor and sullen poverty.
The cruel suffering of
those dark days infected his spirit, leaving a wound which, in the hideous
upheavals of postwar Germany, broke our afresh with unmitigated virulence.
In the most adverse circumstances, he studied art in Dresden and Berlin, and
at the beginning of the war he was a caricaturist of national reputation. Grosz,
the scourge of the Junkers, opposed the war with a weapon as deadly as the
maclune gun, but he did not escape it; and at the conclusion of the shambles,
returned to Berlin where, at twenty-three, he was acknowledged to be the most
powerful artist in the country-s-and the most hated of men.
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He had no faith
in the royalists and none in the Fascists, and he attacked both with all his
strength-with an old skepticism sharpened in the trenches.
In this frame of mind, he produced Ecce Homo, the anatomy of German
degradation succeeding the war, the most surgically explicit satire on the
social habits of man since Swift.
This dreadful history of fleshly corruption
was composed in line and water color, a medium in which Grosz has attained
a technical mastery beyond that of any other living painter.
himself of the monstrous epic, he settled down to less violent subjects-to
still life, street scenes, and nude studies of meaty German girls.
colors have their own peculiar furniture-odds and ends construed as deco
rative properties-and his most pitiless expositions of carnal vanity are re
lieved by passages of great delicacy and gentleness of feeling. His famous
style has been imitated by artists of all countries, not excluding the Japanese.
A Man of Opinion, painted in water color in 1928, was a premonitory warn;
ing of the Nazi terror, when apparently harmless propagandists were dele
gated to perform their deadly work among unsuspecting people.
Grosz’s satirical days are over-his career as a German artist is ended.
Exiled by Hitler, he came to America in 1932, at the invitation of the Art
Students’ League of New York. He is now an American citizen, but he has
no desire to conquer America on the strength of his European reputation.
All he requires, he says, “is a little place in the social scheme to do his work.”
At present his work is mainly in oils, a medium that he uses with marvelous
and newly discovered skill in textural effects and in all sorts of studies painted
in anticipation of his developing point of view on his adopted country.