George Grosz’s Explosion transports the horrors of World War I home, to Berlin. With a fiery glow in the background, collapsing high-rise buildings pinwheel around a black vortex. Windows shatter and smoke pours into the nighttime sky. Slices of half-naked body parts, embracing couples, and shadowy faces appear amid the chaos brought about by man-made, not natural, disaster. Grosz welcomed the purge of old society in this and other paintings showing cities in the throes of destruction that he made after he was discharged from the German army, in spring 1917, as “permanently unfit.”
Multiple, shifting perspectives and intense color heighten the feelings of instability and danger, and demonstrate his reworking of the stylistic approaches of the Expressionists and Italian Futurists. In style and theme, Explosion also recalls the apocalyptic paintings of Ludwig Meidner, whose studio and weekly gatherings Grosz frequented while in Berlin, and the brilliantly colored urban landscapes of French painter Robert Delaunay.
Publication excerpt from Heather Hess, German Expressionist Digital Archive Project, German Expressionism: Works from the Collection. 2011.