Shortly after his discharge from the German Army in May 1915, George Grosz began work on the images that appeared in 1917 in his first portfolio. The prints show his fascination with America and its promise of freedom, gleaned in part from James Fenimore Cooper's and Karl May's fanciful depictions of the American West. He also celebrates New York, capturing the city's energy through Expressionist spatial distortions and Futurist fracturing of the picture plane.
Grosz's images of Berlin, by contrast, take a mordantly realistic approach. Grosz highlights the misery of working-class life; smoking factories are never far from view. Dive bars, with their dubious pleasures, are the only source of solace from the cold and desolate streets. It is no better at home, in cheap apartment blocks, where scenes of murder, prostitution, and suicide play out.
The prints are photolithographs of drawings. Grosz showed little interest in exploring printmaking's technical and aesthetic possibilities. Instead, he exploited its reproducibility, printing large editions on a sliding scale: an inexpensive "popular" edition to reach mass audiences and a costly "luxury" edition, usually on better-quality paper. Grosz had no problems letting rich capitalists finance his attempts to bring about their demise.
Publication excerpt from Heather Hess, German Expressionist Digital Archive Project, German Expressionism: Works from the Collection. 2011.