Born in Berlin, George Grosz spent his early life moving with his mother to and from Stolp, where he began private drawing lessons in 1901, after his father’s death. He was expelled from school in 1908, but in 1909 entered the Royal Academy in Dresden, from which he graduated with honors. Although much of Grosz’s work attacks the military, the artist initially volunteered for the army in 1914. After a year at the Front, he suffered a nervous breakdown, which he considered a physical and psychological revolt against military violence. He was drafted back into the army in 1917, but this time avoided active service, instead spending time in a sanitarium. That same year, the Malik Verlag began publishing his graphic works.
Around the time of the 1918 November Revolution, Grosz focused his pictorial attack on what he later termed “The Pillars of Society”: the military, the clergy, and above all, the bourgeoisie. He was concurrently engaged with the Dada movement, the German Communist Party (KPD) and the Internationale Arbeiterhilfe, which brought him into contact with fellow members Otto Dix and Käthe Kollwitz. Although Grosz’s innate, generalized mistrust of ideology curtailed his activity within the KPD, he remained loyal to the party for several years. When approached to create pro-KPD posters, however, the artist cut ties rather than use his art for propaganda. This break coincided with a 1922 visit to Moscow, where he was disillusioned by the city’s numerous social woes. Grosz nevertheless remained a committed socialist, and in 1924, he became a leader of the left-wing, socially-conscious Rote Gruppe.
In due course, Grosz’s satirical attacks on the corruption inherent in capitalist society landed him in legal trouble. His portfolio God on Our Side was confiscated in 1920, and he was arrested and fined for maligning the military. Two years later he was fined again, this time for defaming public morals in the portfolio Ecce Homo. Grosz seems to have been possessed of an acute, prescient awareness of the threat posed by the Nazi Party: as early as 1925, he began ridiculing Adolf Hitler and issuing increasingly strong warnings about Nazism.
By 1929, the political climate in Germany had swung right, and Grosz was imperiled. In 1933, as the Nazi party was voted into power, he accepted a teaching position in the United States. He sent for his family and became a citizen in 1938. Though the artist had escaped physical danger, his art remained under scrutiny. In 1937, several of his artworks were hung in the “Degenerate Art” exhibition sponsored by the Nazi government. In the U.S., however, Grosz became less political. Relatively benign cityscapes, landscapes and nudes predominate in his later work.
Grosz remained in the United States until 1958, at which point he returned to Germany. He died in Berlin the following year.