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Like Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, George Grosz was part of the few artists in Germany who in 1914, after the outbreak of the Great War, reacted contrary to the generally euphoric atmosphere. His reaction was intellectually and physically so negative as to result in a nervous breakdown.
As George Grosz had already immigrated in 1933 to the USA, he commented from a far distance WWII in numerous war-depictions, that refer formally and from their content to the large war-paintings that Otto Dix created in the 1920ies.
After the end of WWII, George Grosz painted „Peace I“ in 1945 and commented it with the following words: “Malte auch ein Bild Peace, ein Selbstporträt aus Ruinen kommend…”.(Painted also a painting Peace, a self-portrait stepping out of ruins……). The slightly larger version of this painting, painted in 1946, is in the collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.
But what kind of peace is this? From the dark, fuming and smouldering cave of a battlefield, out of destroyed, decomposing organic and inorganic ruins, emerges a figure clad in shreds and rags, carrying a bundle under his left arm as if it was the decapitated head of a corpse. At this figure’s feet rats, feeding on things we don’t want to know…
Large parts of Europe looked like this in 1945. George Grosz had never seen such a situation personally, also didn’t need to do so. Since the horrors of the Great War and the artistic trials to cope with these horrors in the 1920ies and the beginning 1930ies, it was known what shape terror takes and how to depict it. Look into the glowing red eyes of this shadow and be scared stiff, there’s no hope.