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George Grosz (1893-1959)
George Grosz (1893-1959)


George Grosz (1893-1959)
signed 'Grosz' (lower right) and signed again and numbered 'Grosz No 43' (lower left)
watercolor and pen and India ink on paper
20 ¼ x 19 ¾ in. (51.4 x 50.2 cm.)
Executed in 1922
E.V. Thaw & Co., New York.
Galerie Claude Bernard, Paris.
Galerie Thomas Borgmann, Cologne.
Konrad Mönter, Düsseldorf.
Fischer Fine Art, Ltd., London.
Marvin and Janet Fishman, Milwaukee (acquired from the above before 1990); sale, Sotheby's, London, 7 February 2006, lot 13.
Private collection (acquired at the above sale); sale, Christie's, London, 2 February 2010, lot 36.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
H. Jörn, Ostfriesland Journal, October 1991, p. 79 (illustrated).
S. Wikström, Gefle Dagblad, 12 December 1995, p. 12 (illustrated).
B. Brecht, Aamulehti, 1996, p. 20 (illustrated).
D. Jönsson, teborgs Tidningen, Gothenberg, 2 January 1996, p. 5 (illustrated).
D. Sundell, Hufvudstbladet, 11 February 1996, p. 18 (illustrated).
Kunst & Cultuur, Antwerp, June 1996, p. 1 (illustrated; illustrated again on the cover).
Milwaukee Art Museum; Berlin, Berlinische Galerie; Frankfurt-am-main, Schirn Kunsthalle; Emden, Kunsthalle; New York, Jewish Museum; Omaha, Joslyn Art Museum and Atlanta, High Museum, Art in Germany, 1909-1936, from Expressionism to Resistance: The Marvin and Janet Fishman Collection, December 1990-August 1992, p. 181, no. 52 (illustrated in color, p. 60).
Mannheim, Städtische Kunsthalle; The Hague, Museum Het Paleis; Stockholm, Liljevalchs Konsthall; Helsinki, Taidehalli and Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Neue Sachlichkeit-Figurative Malerei der 20er Jahre, October 1994-August 1996, p. 235 (illustrated in color, p. 17).
Paris, Fondation Dina Vierny, Musée Maillol, Allemagne, les années noires, October 2007-February 2008, p. 242 (illustrated in color, p. 192).

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Brooke Lampley
Brooke Lampley

Lot Essay

Ralph Jentsch has confirmed the authenticity of this work.

“Barbarism prevailed... The times were certainly mad!” George Grosz wrote, describing the chaos in Germany following the nation’s humiliating defeat at the end of the First World War. “Morality as such no longer existed. A wave of prostitution and obscenity swept the land” (A Little Yes and a Big No: The Autobiography of George Grosz, New York, 1946, p. 168). This watercolor illustrates a little corner in a society reeling from the ravages of mass unemployment and rampant inflation. “Everyone who had nothing wanted something,” Grosz observed, “and everyone who had something sold it for many times its value... The higher the scale of values, the greater the lust for living” (ibid., pp. 170 and 171).
While clients endlessly come and go, the drunk, cigar-chomping pimp at the table in this sleazy basement brothel can only curse his fate, that after so much crude exploitation on his part, he has actually gained little to show for it. He earlier appeared in a more upscale setting–or is he dreaming?–in Ecce Homo, 1921, the title work in Grosz’s book collection of 16 watercolors and 84 drawings, executed during the past seven years, which Malik-Verlag published at the end of 1922. The many extraordinary qualities of the present Orgie, from an insouciantly blasé scatological vignette to the artist’s superlative skill as a watercolorist, may have made this work a candidate for inclusion as well. Grosz perhaps concluded, however, that after already having awarded star billing to his dyspeptic pimp, and then having put him on the cover of the book, directly above the title–just as Pilate brought forth Christ and declared to the mob “Behold the Man”–he had given this fellow enough attention.
The tumultuous, even dangerous events that beset the fledgling Weimar Republic both challenged and inspired Grosz, not yet thirty, to create his very best work. During the brutal ultra-rightist, para-military suppression of the leftist Spartacist uprising in 1919, he narrowly avoided arrest and summary execution for having recently joined the Kommunistische Partei Deutschland. Twice the state prosecuted the artist, first in 1920 for having satirized the German Army in his folio Gott mit Uns; threatened with imprisonment, he got off with a fine. Ecce Homo landed him in trouble a second time, on this occasion for obscenity. Again he and his publishers were judged guilty and paid up. Having been threatened on the street, Grosz obtained a license to carry a pistol for self-protection.
“I considered all art useless unless it could be employed as a political instrument in the battle for freedom”–this was Grosz’s view in 1918, right after the war. “My art was to be my arm, my sword. Pens that drew without a purpose were like empty straws” (ibid., pp. 162-163). He returned from his trip to the Soviet Union during the summer of 1922, however, disillusioned with the increasingly totalitarian system he observed there. In 1923 Grosz quit the KPD, but continued to immerse himself in the everyday drama being played out in the streets of Berlin, taking a more detached and sardonic view of all that he witnessed.
“I was really part and parcel of the life I was depicting,” Grosz admitted. “To view the world as a natural spectacle, as rationally explicable, seemed right and good to me... Since reading Nietzsche I was rather suspicious of the moral in man. The elements rain, wind, volcanic eruptions, snow and frost that nips people’s feet cannot be viewed as good or evil. Why then man? Because of this attitude, I could not be a reformer” (ibid., p. 172).

George Grosz, Ecce Homo, 1921. Private collection.

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