Posts Tagged ‘neue sachlichkeit’

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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George Grosz, “The Fat and the Thin.” Watercolor, 1937; reproduced in John I. H. Baur, George Grosz. New York: Macmillan, 1954. Exhibition catalogue by the Whitney Museum of American Art.

“Another theme which absorbed Grosz during the 1936-46 decade was the plight of the
individual in war. This series was first fully stated in the large oil A Piece of My World, II
of about 1938, which in spite of its title bears no relation to the Newark Museum’s painting.
Instead it is a ragged horde of soldiers, emaciated, unkempt and carrying a weird assort-
ment of patched-up weapons. They are quite different from the symbolic figures in the
ruin series, for each is fully characterized. Grimacing with defiance or despair, they emerge
from the ground like moles and move through a dreary landscape of ruins and fallen trees,
following a banner emblazoned with a ham impaled on a fork. Since they have never
seen a ham, Grosz explains, this is as meaningless as everything else they do. Plainly they
are without feeling, for a rat gnaws at the leg of one, who pays no attention. The high
impasto of the paint is laid on in squirming ribbons, which is not only appropriate to the
mood of the picture but also suggests an influence of Magnasco, for whom Grosz has a
great fondness. The composition is like the undulating legs of a centipede, echoed in the
arms above. It is also related, though perhaps mostly in the artist’s mind, to those 19th-
century paintings of charging hussars which he had admired in his youth. “If you just tidied it up a little,” Grosz says, “it would be quite like them. I always wanted to be a
historical painter and I finally became one — but in a very different way.”

The gray, imaginary world with its strange inhabitants which Grosz created in this
picture continued to haunt him for many years. In a number of canvases he revisited it,
devising new episodes, though often with the same characters, and evolving a whole
private legend about its laws, its customs, its way of life. Actually it did not spring into
existence with a single picture. It had its genesis in several earlier watercolors such as
The Ambassador of Good Will of 1936 and The Fat and the Thin of 1937. In both of these
Grosz had played with the contrast between an army of fat, stupid soldiers and one of
emaciated fanatics. At the beginning there were political implications; the “ambassador”
wears a Nazi arm band, his elaborate equipment symbolizes German love of efficiency,
the hearts on his helmet German sentimentality. But the setting of the watercolors is still
a prosaic one, not the unreal land of his myth. When he painted A Piece of My World, II,
he used the two ragged soldiers from The Ambassador watercolor with only slight alterations
but developed his concept of their bleak country and their subterranean life. These
features reappeared in an oil version of The Ambassador of Good Will, done in 1943. Except
for the red face of the fat soldier, all the bright hues of the watercolor version have gone.
The battle-torn landscape and its inhabitants blend in dull grays and tans; indeed one
looks twice before perceiving the third “native” peering from his hole in the ground
below the gibbet. With the erasing of the swastika from the ambassador’s arm band, the
picture has lost its political emphasis and has become both a monstrous fairy tale and
an ironic symbol of the senselessness of war for conqueror and vanquished alike.” 

– pp. 27-28.

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George Grosz, I Was Always Present. Oil, 1942, reproduced in John I. H. Baur, George Grosz.

New York: Macmillan, 1954. Exhibition catalogue by the Whitney Museum of American Art.


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Franz Sedlacek, Ghosts on a Tree. Oil on wood (?), 1933. 

Original source is unknown – found this on Reddit – but Franz Sedlacek’s official website is interesting.

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Franz Sedlacek, Industrielandschaft. Oil on wood, 1934. Source.

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Gustav Wunderwald, Fabrik von Loewe & Co. (Moabit). Oil on canvas, 1926. 

Berlinische Galerie, BG-M 0356/77

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George Grosz, World Peace. Pen and ink, drawing in pencil on wove paper, 1936. Part of the Interregnum series. Shown in The Month, June 1960. Source.

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