Grosz is to this day well known for his graphic work, especially his satirical drawings that appeared in illustrated periodicals, magazines and portfolios during the Weimar republic period.
Between the unification of Germany in 1871 and the outbreak of the First World War, newspapers and periodical production had accelerated dramatically thus, increasing the opportunities for a large number of graphic artists and illustrators. Due to the rapid urbanisation and introduction of universal education that followed unification created an increased demand for and the production of newspapers. “In 1866 there were approximately 1,500 newspapers in circulation (of which only 300 appeared daily) compared with about 3,500 in 1900. By 1914 this had increased to 4,200 of which approximately half appeared daily” (Perry 1983:34). With the addition of technical advances in printing it facilitated and increased the production of illustrated newspapers, such as the Leipziger Illustrierte Zeitung, and illustrated supplements, such as Ulk, of which was the satirical weekly supplement of the liberal paper Berliner Tageblatt, of which Grosz contributed his first published drawing Holiday in Thorn 1910.
The true extent of German newspaper production is underlined by a comparison with Britain, where newspapers numbered about 2,400 in 1914 (Perry 1983). “Regional dispersion, reflecting local religious and cultural allegiances from before unification, was a characteristic of the German press. Eksteins, in The Limits of Reason 1975, has estimated that the 41 German cities with populations exceeding 100,000 averaged about 15 local papers each” (Perry 1983:34). Berlin became the center for the publication of ‘Expressionist’ magazines, of which many were modeled on Walden’s Der Sturm that included literature, poetry and graphics. “Within the post-war period, there was a dramatic increase in the publication and production of these kinds of magazines partly due to post-war ideals of creating a new society with new artistic freedoms, these ideals are epitomised in the Novembergruppe ‘Guidelines’, Supplementary Documents, IX. 2” (Parry 1983:34). However, due to disillusionment and cynicism set in within the early events of the Weimar Republic, these types of periodicals went out of circulation as quickly as they had arrived.
From an early age, Grosz realised that he could make a living from ‘caricatures’ and with the accelerated production of illustrated newspapers and magazines in 1900-1920 it increased the opportunities for illustrators and graphic artists greatly. This may be one of the reasons as to why so many contemporary German artists worked exclusively (or almost exclusively) in the graphic medium. “When Grosz came to Berlin and began to work as a freelance illustrator he would have become familiar with a wide range of graphic work in periodicals, art magazines and portfolios, which had little in common with the illustrations in the ‘penny dreadfuls’” (Parry 1983:34). The Brücke group of artists and many Expressionist artists working after the war prints and woodcuts were an important graphic medium, especially those associated with the Novembergruppe. These included Klein, Feinginger, Conrad Felixmüller, and Pechstein, of which Grosz would have known. Grosz was also influenced by the graphic contemporary images of urban life represented in the works of Berlin-based artists, Kollwitz, Baluschek and Zille.
By Rebecca Holland
Perry, G. (1983) Modern art & Modernism – George Grosz and Weimar Germany
Milton Keynes: The open university