Berlin 1893 – Berlin 1959
oil on canvas
90 x 80 cm
Inventory number 2454
The German artist
George Grosz, like his good friend and author
Walter Mehring, was surrounded by an air of scandal in the Berlin of the
Interbellum. The two men had met in the city in 1918 and collaborated on a Dada periodical and the ‘
Schall und Rauch’ cabaret. They were die-hard Dadaists, provocateurs and critics of bourgeois
society. Mehring was renowned and even feared for his satirical songs and texts, while Grosz
expressed his loathing for corruption, anti-Semitism and militarism in his drawings and paintings.
Around 1926, he created this portrait of his friend Mehring, seated against a background of a
stormy sky and a building in ruins. A prefiguration of things to come?
The Nazis seized the portrait in 1937. They considered all Modernist, abstract and socially critical art as degenerate, banning it from public display or even seizing it, so that many German museums lost large parts of their collections of contemporary art.
Art at a bargain
In 1939, the Nazis organised an auction at Lucerne with the intention of cashing in on the artworks they had previously seized. An international audience of museum curators jumped at the opportunity to acquire some of the ‘reviled’ pieces. Arthur Cornette, the then director of KMSKA, travelled to Lucerne in the company of a representative of the museum's acquisitions commission and was able to buy this portrait at a bargain.