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Posts Tagged ‘apocalyptic art’

Charles Taze Russell, The Finished Mystery: ‘The Winepress of God’s Wrath and the Fall of Babylon. People’s Pulpit Association, 1918.  Section of plates. 

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George Grosz, The Pit. Oil, 1946. Roland P. Murdock Collection, Wichita Art Museum.

Reproduced in John I. H. Baur, George Grosz.New York: Macmillan, 1954. Exhibition catalogue by the Whitney Museum of American Art.

“All of the same skill and even more virtuosity went into Grosz’s biggest, most ambitious
and, in the writer’s opinion, his greatest painting, The Pit. Here is a truly fantastic vision
with the scope and the nightmare reality of Bosch and a superbly integrated design that
holds together all the elaborate symbolism of our unhappy times. Iconographically, the
picture is fascinating. From the pit with its burning city, evil swarms upward into the
world in the guise of a thousand rats, a long sinuous line of them with its front ranks just
emerging in the foreground. At the left, the unknown soldier, half-crazed, carries his own
missing leg under his arm. Above him is prostitution, a sensuous nude embraced by a
headless and bodiless figure — a pair of anonymous arms. Nearby, an emaciated mother
and child personify starvation and a mad fanatic works the strings of red, white and black
puppets, the political taboos of our day. In the center, money, looking like winged doves, is scattered from a broken vault, near which the dead hang on a gibbet. Below, the
eternal drunkard sits on a pile of empty bottles, while beside him a solitary figure, perhaps
the artist himself, stares at the scene from his barred prison. 

Over it all hover two apparitions: in the center the moon-like face of Mother Europa with blood at the corner of her
mouth and her arm filled with struggling figures, at the left death, as a skeleton, winging
down with a fluttering, yellow-green shroud. The shattered house which mounts high on
the right is not an impersonal ruin; to Grosz it is the house he never saw where his mother
died in a bombing during the war.

The skill with which this elaborate symbolism has been woven into a single picture is
impressive. Using a setting which suggests a crypt or grotto, Grosz has built up his incidents
into restless, fluttering lines that dart forward and back, upward and down like bats in
a cavern. Big broken forms balance the multiplicity of detail and bridge the complicated
system of levels. At top and bottom the restless activity fades away into the mysterious
depths of the sky and the pit. 

“The unformed, the nihilistic, the chaotic has a tremendous
appeal for me,” Grosz says, but he is also distrustful of this side of his nature, holding it,
though only half-seriously, to be “a little dangerous, a little on the side of insanity.” This
is one of the few pictures in which he has yielded to it completely — and with what unexpected results. For here, despite the symbolism, is no anti-war tract but almost a glorification of destruction, a kind of apocalypse painted, one would say, with love, not hate.
The situation is a little like that of Kafka’s officer in the penal colony who fell so deeply
in love with his own torture machine that he chose to die on it himself. The parallel is
not exact for Grosz’s romanticism, despite his admiration for Kafka, is more disciplined
and less morbid. A fairer comparison would be with some of the Last Judgments of
Renaissance art or, more obviously, Bosch. Like these. The Pit is a moral painting with
a strong weakness for demons.”  

– pp. 43-44

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