Georg Ehrenfried Gross was born in Berlin in 1893. After his father died in 1900, he and his mother lived, alternately in Berlin and Stolp in Pomerania, where Gross attended secondary school. He was expelled from school in 1908 for striking a trainee teacher. Gross studied at the Royal Academy of Art in Dresden where he specialized in graphic art. He began collaborating with satirical magazines as early as 1910 and in 1912 he took a graphic art class at the College of Arts and Crafts in Berlin. He spent several months at Colarossi’s studio in Paris in 1913 where the main subjects of his drawings were crimes, orgies and other erotic subjects. A number of his cartoons found publication in “Ulk”, “Lustige Blätter” and other periodicals and soon after, he completed his first book illustrations and began painting oils.
When World War I began, Gross volunteered for service, but was discharged after only a few months following a surgical operation. During his time in Berlin Gross met a number of authors, artists and intellectuals, among them those with whom he founded the Berlin Dada in 1917. In 1916, in protest against nationalism and patriotism, Gross changed his name to Grosz and later the same year, he painted the earliest of his better known oils, among them “Lovesick” and “Suicide”.
In 1918, after the revolution in Russia, Grosz joined the artist’s association, “The November Group” and also became a member of the Communist Party. In 1919 he started a magazine called, “Die Pleite” with the publisher, Wieland Herzfelde of Malik Publishing House. He also collaborated with Franz Jung on “Jedermann sein eigener Fussball” and with John Hoexter and Carl Einstein on “Der blutige Ernst”. Grosz’s works, many of which were harshly critical of bourgeois society, caused many a scandal.
In 1921 Grosz was charged with defaming the Reichswehr (the army), in 1924 he was prosecuted for offences against public morality and in 1928 he was accused of blasphemy for his drawing, “Shut Up and Keep Serving the Cause”. In his 1925 portfolio of prints, Grosz ridiculed Hitler by portraying him in a bearskin with a swastika tattooed on his left arm. He became chairman of the artist’s association, “The Red Group” in 1924 and until 1927 he contributed on a regular basis to Communist publications. He was the co- founder of the “Association Revolutionärer Bildender Künstler Deutschlands” (The German Association of Revolutionary Artists) in 1928. Throughout the 1920s, Grosz’s work was influenced by the political and economic situation in post-war Germany and Europe.
In 1932 Grosz was invited to lecture at the Art Students League in New York City and in the year that followed, he emigrated to the United States with his wife and sons. Once living in the United States, Grosz’s work changed dramatically as his commitment to the class stuggle was eliminated. Grosz taught at the Art Students League until 1936 and he also had a private art school where his students were mostly society ladies. He was the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship from 1937 to 1939. Grosz was stripped of his German citizenship in 1938 and a number of his works were burned by the Nazis. Grosz was elected to the Academy of Arts and Letters in 1954 and to the Academy of Fine Arts of Germany in 1958. In 1959 he returned to Berlin, where he died only one month later.