After Germany was defeated at the end of World War I, a democratic government was installed for the first time in the territory’s history. The Weimar Republic, as it was known, lasted from 1919 to 1933, when Adolf Hitler rose to power. The Weimar era was marked by extreme political and economic turmoil as well as intense creative ferment. Hopes for social progress turned to cynicism as unemployment, hyperinflation, and political extremism set in.
Max Beckmann, Otto Dix, George Grosz, and other artists responded by embracing a clinical, matter-of-fact realism that repudiated the abstract, spiritual ideals that had guided artists before the war. Traumatized by the conflict (all three had served in the German military) and disillusioned by its aftermath, they cast a cold eye on their fellow Germans. Looking through a war-impacted lens that, in Grosz’s words, “reflected man’s every virtue and every vice . . . with unusual clarity,” they created biting portraits of a restless, rapidly evolving society.