George Grosz 1893-1959
Inscribed 'Grosz | bis Oktober | 1916 | Südende' on back of canvas (the inscription was covered when the canvas was relined in 1961)
Oil on canvas, 39 3/8 x 30 1/2 (100 x 77.6)
Purchased from Richard L. Feigen & Co. (Grant-in-Aid) with the aid of the NACF 1976
Prov: Karl Bollschweiler, Zurich (purchased from the artist); with Max Wydler, Zurich; with Richard L. Feigen Gallery, Chicago; Morton D. May, St Louis, Missouri, 1961; with Richard L. Feigen & Co., New York
Exh: Out of the Ordinary, Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, November-December 1959 (works not numbered, repr.); George Grosz (1915-1927), Richard Feigen Gallery, Chicago, January-February 1961 (5); German Expressionist Paintings from the Collection of Morton D. May, Portland Art Museum, Oregon, September-October 1967 (56, repr.); The Morton D. May Collection of 20th Century German Masters, Marlborough-Gerson Gallery, New York, January-February 1970 (68, repr.)
Repr: The Tate Gallery 1976-8 (London 1978), p.41 in colour
The inscription on the back of the canvas apparently signifies that the picture was completed in October 1916 and that it was painted in Grosz's studio in Berlin Südende. An old photograph of it in the George-Grosz-Archiv at the Akademie der Künste, Berlin, is inscribed on the back in the artist's handwriting '1916. Selbstmörder. Besitz Falk' (1916. Suicide. Owner Falk). Falk would presumably be Solly Falk, a German businessman who was Grosz's chief patron at this period. However there is no other evidence that it belonged to him and Max Wydler, who sold it to Richard Feigen in the late 1950s, writes that the previous owner, the Swiss accountant Karl Bollschweiler, bought it direct from the artist's studio in Berlin soon after the First World War. As his family did not like it, he stored it away for years in the attic of his house. Eventually he exchanged it with Wydler for a painting by a German Romantic artist, and it was sold to Richard Feigen a few months later. (This account, in a letter of 17 January 1976, was written after the facts were checked with the late Herr Bollschweiler's brother).
After brief service in the army from November 1914 to May 1915, Grosz had been temporarily discharged for medical reasons and was free to spend the rest of 1915 to the end of 1916 working in Berlin. Bitterly opposed to the war, which filled him with disgust and aversion for mankind, he drew and painted drunkards, sadistic murderers, prostitutes, war cripples and suicides. 'In my studio at Südende', he wrote later in his autobiography, 'I lived in a world of my own. My drawings expressed my despair, hate and disillusionment. I had utter contempt for mankind in general' (A Little Yes and a Big No, New York 1946, pp.146-7).
Among his other paintings of 1916 is one the same size called 'Der Liebeskranke' (Lovesick), which shows a similar man, also with a skull-like head, seated at a table outside a café, with a revolver in his breast pocket. The resemblance between the two men is not close enough for one picture to be regarded as the sequel to the other, but Grosz may have thought of them as pendants to some extent. 'Lovesick' is predominantly green, whereas this picture is predominantly dark red.
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, pp.341-2, reproduced p.341