Illustrated companion

George Grosz was born in Berlin and trained there and in Dresden and Paris. He began painting in 1911 but is best known for his savagely satirical drawings of German society. Even before the First World War his work is infused with what he later described as his 'profound disgust for life' and his experience of the war enormously intensified this feeling. He was drafted into the German army in 1914 and his loathing for the system led to his being court-martialled for insulting the army and blasphemy. He apparently came close to being shot. When he was invalided out of the army in 1915 he put his feelings into his art. Bitterly opposed to the war, he drew and painted drunkards, sadistic murderers, prostitutes, war cripples and suicides. In his autobiography, Grosz recounts that at this time in his studio in Berlin 'I lived in a world of my own. My drawings expressed my despair, hate and disillusionment. I had utter contempt for mankind in general.' In the light of this it is not surprising to find him dwelling on the subject of suicide.

'Suicide' is a powerful and extraordinary compendium of many of Grosz's themes of this period. In addition to the principal figure, another body hangs from a lamppost, a criminal runs out of the picture to the right, while scavenging dogs prowl the streets. In the right background is a tableau of one of Grosz's favourite targets, the corrupt relationship of the bloated businessman and the prostitute. Finally, highlighted in the extreme background, the Church presides serenely over this world of death and decay. Grosz makes telling use of a sinister Expressionist colour scheme of intense red and green, and the face of the suicide is already showing the skull beneath. Beside him hovers a ghostly face which might represent his soul or his living self.

Published in:
Simon Wilson, Tate Gallery: An Illustrated Companion, Tate Gallery, London, revised edition 1991, p.124