George Grosz: The big No at the New Walk Museum and Art Gallery in Leicester

By Ben Miller | 22 October 2012
A photo of a black ink illustration of various figures from the church and Nazi Germany
George Grosz, Seid untertan der Obrigkeit (Bow to the authorities) (published 1928). From Hinterland (Background)© The Estate of George Grosz, Princeton, New Jersey, USA. Photo: Stephen White
Exhibition: George Grosz: The big No, New Walk Museum and Art Gallery, Leicester, until January 6 2013

When the painter George Grosz’s particularly bleak brand of satire ended with his death in 1959, his widow and sons continued to promote his work.

An image of a black ink illustration of a figure smiling in a suit from 1920s Germany
Charakterkopf  (Character study) (1921). From Ecco Homo (published 1923 / facsimile published 1964)© The Estate of George Grosz, Princeton, New Jersey, USA. Photo: Stephen White
In 1964, they issued a facsimile of the Ecce Homo portfolio – a “monstrous menagerie” of 84 black and white drawings and 16 watercolours which captured hyper-inflation, social disorientation and the fascist-communist divide in 1920s Berlin.

Literally translating to Behold the Man – the words uttered by Pontius Pilate when he presented Christ to the people before his crucifixion – these visualisations of vice and injustice have gone on show in Leicester on a tour from the Hayward Gallery which also includes the Hintergrund body of work, originally published in 1928.

Their subjects range from pimps and marketeers to prostitutes, hopeless soldiers and the nouveau-riche. Grosz’s unflinching depictions of hovels, seedy night bars and brothels saw him prosecuted for obscenity, with the plates for Ecce Homo destroyed shortly after emerging in 1923.

A photo of a black ink illustration of various figures sitting at a bar in 1920s Germany
Trio (1919). From Ecco Homo© The Estate of George Grosz, Princeton, New Jersey, USA. Photo: Stephen White
The Nazis publicly burnt most of the remaining copies in 1933 and, after the artist had fled to the US just days before Hitler came to power, the government renounced his German citizenship and featured Grosz in an exhibition of supposed shame, Degenerate Art, before he became a citizen of America, where he lived for all but the final few months of his life, when he returned to Berlin.

Hintergrund is equally reflective of a harrowing era. Made in conjunction with an anti-war play by Erwin Piscator, the 17 drawings were presented to theatre audiences and projected above the stage, with an image of a crucified, gas mask-wearing Christ leading to a criminal prosecution against the artist which was the longest trial in pre-Nazi German history, although Grosz was eventually acquitted of defaming his country’s military.

The show is curated by the experienced filmmaker, curator and writer Lutz Becker. It is on display alongside New Walk’s existing acclaimed collection of 20th century German Expressionist art, as well as an exhibition on German photographer August Sander (1876 - 1964) presenting 175 of his influential works.

  • Open 10am-5pm (11am-5pm Sunday). Admission free. Visit the exhibition online. Tours to Michael Heseltine Gallery, Chenderit School, Middleton Cheney (January 12 – February 10 2013); Berni Gallery, Jersey Arts Centre, Jersey (May 4 – June 2 2013); Artsmill, Hebden Bridge (July 13 – August 11 2013).
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