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Expressionism and City Life

Through their art, German and Austrian Expressionists expressed their conflicted views of urban life.


Metropolis (Grossstadt)

George Grosz
(American, born Germany. 1893–1959)

1917. Oil on board, 26 3/4 x 18 3/4" (68 x 47.6 cm)

George Grosz was released from the army after suffering a nervous breakdown in 1917, the same year that he painted Metropolis. The war had left a mark, and Grosz saw the city streets of Germany as a battlefield. “My drawings,” he wrote, “expressed my despair, hate and disillusionment….”1

Grosz’s Metropolis is filled with violence and vice, awash in a deep blood red. The angled buildings create a claustrophobic, maze-like trap. Dapper men with skull-like faces leer vacantly as a nude woman struts and a headless female figure tumbles through space. All the figures appear to float on air. The distinctions between interior and exterior space fall away, as we view the signage on the outside of a night café simultaneous with a glass and wine bottles on an indoor tabletop. “I drew and painted from a spirit of contradiction,” Grosz stated, “and attempted in my work to convince the world that this world is ugly, sick and mendacious.”2

Friedrich, Otto. Before the Deluge: A Portrait of Berlin in the 1920s, (New York: Harper Perennial, 1995), 37
Friedrich, Otto. Before the Deluge: A Portrait of Berlin in the 1920s, (New York: Harper Perennial, 1995), 37