George Grosz (July 26, 1893 – July 6, 1959) was a German artist known especially for his savagely caricatural drawings of Berlin life in the 1920s. He was a prominent member of the Berlin Dada and New Objectivity group during the Weimar Republic before he emigrated to the United States in 1933.
George Grosz was born Georg Ehrenfried Groß in Berlin, Germany, and grew up in the Pomeranian town of Stolp, where his mother became the keeper of the local Hussar's Officers' mess after his father died in 1901. At the urging of his cousin, the young Grosz began attending a weekly drawing class taught by a local painter named Grot. Grosz developed his skills further by drawing meticulous copies of the drinking scenes of Eduard Grutzner, and by drawing imaginary battle scenes. From 1909–1911, he studied at the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts, where his teachers were Richard Müller, Robert Sterl, Raphael Wehle, and Oskar Schindler. He subsequently studied at the Berlin College of Arts and Crafts under Emil Orlik. In November 1914 Grosz volunteered for military service, in the hope that by thus preempting conscription he would avoid being sent to the front. He was given a discharge after hospitalization for sinusitis in 1915. In 1916 he changed the spelling of his name to George Grosz as a protest against German nationalism and out of a romantic enthusiasm for America that originated in his early reading of the books of James Fenimore Cooper, Bret Harte and Karl May, and which he retained for the rest of his life. (His artist friend and collaborator Helmut Herzfeld changed his name to John Heartfield at the same time.) In January 1917 he was drafted for service, but in May he was discharged as permanently unfit. Grosz was arrested during the Spartakus uprising in January 1919, but escaped using fake identification documents; he joined the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) in the same year. In 1921 Grosz was accused of insulting the army, which resulted in a 300 German Mark fine and the destruction of the collection Gott mit uns ("God with us"), a satire on German society. Grosz left the KPD in 1922 after having spent five months in Russia and meeting Lenin and Trotsky, because of his antagonism to any form of dictatorial authority. Bitterly anti-Nazi, Grosz left Germany shortly before Hitler came to power. In June 1932, he accepted an invitation to teach the summer semester at the Art Students League of New York. In October 1932, Grosz returned to Germany, but on January 12, 1933 he and his family emigrated to America. Grosz became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1938, and made his home in Bayside, New York. He taught at the Art Students League intermittently until 1955. In America, Grosz determined to make a clean break with his past, and changed his style and subject matter. He continued to exhibit regularly, and in 1946 he published his autobiography, A Little Yes and a Big No. In the 1950s he opened a private art school at his home and also worked as Artist in Residence at the Des Moines Art Center. Grosz was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1954. Though he had US citizenship, he resolved to return to Berlin, where he died on July 6, 1959 from the effects of falling down a flight of stairs after a night of drinking. In 1960, Grosz was the subject of the Oscar-nominated short film George Grosz' Interregnum. In 2002, actor Kevin McKidd portrayed Grosz in a supporting role as an eager artist seeking exposure in a fictional film entitled Max, regarding Adolf Hitler's youth.