Making an Exile Culture
It may interest you to know that Hitler and the Nazis are making you even more famous by giving you an exhibition in Munich this year.
Letter to George Grosz, 24 July 1937
In July 1937, George Grosz received a brief note from abroad telling him of a current display of his works in Germany sponsored by "Hitler and the Nazis."1 Enclosed was a Paris World-Tribune report on the 19 July unveiling of the Degenerate Art exhibition in Munich. Grosz's art appeared there among the more than 650 paintings, drawings, and sculptures by Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Wilhelm Lehmbruck, Käthe Kollwitz, Otto Dix, and other leading modernists whose works had been confiscated from German museums and public collections in the preceding weeks. The Degenerate Art show sought to shape viewers' understanding of the works on display through its unveiling in an unorthodox setting for the presentation of art. Staged in an archaeological institute, not a museum, it encouraged visitors to regard the exhibited objects not as works of art but rather as artifacts of a dead culture. Organizers hung paintings haphazardly on temporary partitions and scattered sculptures carelessly around the galleries. Graffiti-like slogans scrawled on the surrounding walls castigated the works on view as "an insult to German womanhood," "deliberate sabotage of national defense," "crazy at any price," and "nature as seen by sick minds."
The Degenerate Art spectacle brought to political account Hitler's long-standing negative judgment on modernist art, which he condemned as "spiritual madness" in his autobiographical manifesto Mein Kampf (My Struggle) of 1925. For the Nazi leader and others who shared his views, the formal experiment and challenging contents of modernist art were complicit in modernizing social and political changes they held responsible for Weimar Germany's alleged cultural and spiritual decline. Hitler furthermore insisted that it was the task of a strong leadership to protect the people from modernism's deleterious effects: "It is the business of the state, in other words, of its leaders, to prevent a people from being driven into the arms of spiritual madness. And this is where such a development would some day inevitably end. For on the day when this type of art really corresponded to the general view of things, one of the gravest transformations of humanity would have occurred: the regressive development of the human mind would have begun and the end would scarcely be conceivable."2 Under Hitler, the Third Reich assumed this responsibility of cultural leadership. With the staging of the Degenerate Art exhibition it also made plain the regime's plan to expunge modernist art from the nation's cultural patrimony.
Several outstanding studies have examined the Degenerate Art exhibition, its role in Nazi cultural policy, and its impact on the lives and livelihoods of modernist artists living in Germany.3 The following pages focus instead on responses to the Degenerate Art show in the United States, with specific attention to how reports of the exhibit prompted a turning point in Grosz's reputation as a famed exile from the Third Reich. Before 1937, John Dos Passos, Marsden Hartley, and other American commentators had acclaimed Grosz as a victim of political persecution; in the wake of Degenerate Art, however, his fate also took on an aesthetic dimension. As we shall explore, Grosz and his work now became entwined with the plight of an artistic modernism faced with vilification and expulsion from the Hitler regime.
This chapter addresses the evolving nature of Grosz's exile experience as the enormity of events unfolding in Germany began to command world attention. Like Thomas Mann, Albert Einstein, and other exiled artists and intellectuals, Grosz confronted the changing expectations of an American public increasingly alarmed by Hitler's threat. Under the circumstances, he and others of the emigration became evermore intimately identified with their country of origin as observers and critics, and they themselves probed for insight into the country responsible for Nazism.
For the exiles, self-reflection led to protracted debate as Grosz and his fellow compatriots weighed the nature of the culture they took themselves to represent. How could the land of poets and thinkers have given rise to such horror? To what extent were the exiles themselves implicated in, if not to blame for, Hitler's crimes? In public addresses, newspaper columns, and private discussions, members of the emigration debated these questions, including the extent of their responsibility for the Nazi phenomenon and what the times now demanded of them as exponents of Germany's tragedy. As we shall see, these debates concerning Germany and the Germans had a palpable impact on Grosz's paintings and drawings beginning in the mid-1930s. Later in the 1930s, and especially with the outbreak of World War II, prominent voices in the exile community exhorted an end to American neutrality and the country's long-standing reluctance to become embroiled in foreign conflict. This chapter explores Grosz's controversial role in these efforts. It concludes with a discussion of how his art and life both aided and resisted exile attempts to promote a "better" Germany worth defending to an isolationist America poised on the brink of entry into World War II.
The Persecuted Modernist
Under the headline "Modernism Is Now Verboten," New York Times reporter Benedict Nyson described the Degenerate Art exhibit as the "passing of an era" in which modernist art of the Weimar Republic was now officially expunged from German cultural life.4 Nyson also told of the first Great German Art Exhibition, which opened in Munich on 18 July 1937, the day before Degenerate Art . In stark contrast to the makeshift installation accorded the modern works shown at the city's archaeological institute, the Great German Art Exhibition opened with a week of celebration and parades in honor of German culture. It also served to inaugurate the spacious galleries of the newly opened House of German Art. Designed by Hitler's first state architect, Paul Ludwig Troost, the modernized classicism of the structure programmatically linked the cultural achievements of the Third Reich to those of ancient Greece and the origins of Western civilization. Planning and construction of this first monumental building project of the Nazi regime began in 1933 shortly after Hitler was appointed chancellor.
Inside the House of German Art's light-filled interior spaces, the first Great German Art Exhibition showcased paintings, sculptures, and drawings by over five hundred state artists whose works served as examples of the "healthy national art" now favored by the führer.5 Unlike their modernist counterparts, works in the Great German Art show followed academic standards of naturalism in the rendering of form and space. They also adhered to subject matter that celebrated the German nation, its history, and its land. Nazi cultural functionaries deemed this art diametrically opposed to the "degenerate" works they condemned. They also promoted this patriotic art as more ennobling for and intelligible to the German people, for whom they now claimed to speak.
The New York Times article announcing recent events in the German art world illustrated for its readers the difference between Nazi Germany's "forbidden" and "approved" art by juxtaposing Grosz's large-scale painting Eclipse of the Sun (1926) with Hitler's Old Abbey at Messines (1914) (figure 3). The formal complexity and critical content of Grosz's painting suited well the task of showing all that was currently reviled in Hitler's Third Reich. Among his most ambitious modern history paintings of the Weimar years, the work combines Dadaist caricature and simultaneity with the penetrating verism of the New Objectivity. It also represents one of the last pieces in which Grosz foregrounded the assault on the church, state authority, and capitalist exploitation, which had motivated much of his art as the German Communist Party's leading artist of the early 1920s.
Eclipse of the Sun emerged from the fragile period of stability that marked Germany's post-World War I economic recovery, which was enabled by the American-sponsored Dawes Plan in 1924. The work provides a virtual compendium of the signs, symbols, and debased physiognomies that populated many of Grosz's politicized satiric illustrations of the period, beginning with its unflattering portrayal of the rotund president of the Weimar Republic, General Paul von Hindenburg (figure 4). Grosz depicts the general presiding over a meeting of headless ministers. Arrayed on the table before him is a bloodied sword and a small cross painted the nationalist colors of black, gold, and red. This unholy alliance of church, state, and militarism is joined by big capital in the guise of the top-hatted industrialist who whispers in Hindenburg's ear. As a harbinger of apocalypse, an American dollar sign blocks out the rays of the sun and casts the work's fragmented pictorial space into darkness. A feeding trough that doubles as a ballot box "stuffed" with papers balances precariously on a plank at the table's edge. The blinkered donkey of the German electorate threatens to upend the plank as it stands poised to feed from the trough. In this scathing vision of the republic teetering on the verge of collapse, Eclipse of the Sun assailed Weimar's era of stability as a contrived fiction promulgated by American capital and a corrupt German order beholden to militarism, big industry, and religion.
By contrast, Hitler's Old Abbey at Messines communicates the formal restraint and patriotic message that were then expected of German art. The work dates from Hitler's time as an enlisted infantryman and portrays the charred remainder of a Belgian town captured by the Germans from the British in 1914. Several of Hitler's watercolors from this period were exhibited and published between 1935 and 1937 as part of propaganda efforts to assert the führer's patriotic service during World War I.6 In 1935, Time magazine noted one of the first of these exhibits when it reported on a small show in Munich featuring five of Hitler's "competent" watercolors.7 Time also informed readers of the German leader's long-standing interest in the arts, including his unsuccessful attempt to enroll in the Vienna Kunstakademie in 1907. Life magazine expanded on Hitler's artistic exploits the following year with a two-page exposé featuring color reproductions. Among them was Old Abbey at Messines, which the journal praised for its "remarkable flow and feeling."8
These restrained yet favorable assessments of Hitler's art typified the increasingly well-disposed tenor of American mainstream media overall as the new Nazi regime moved beyond its time of transition to power and began consolidating its control over political and public life in Germany. This response differed from the period immediately following Hitler's appointment as chancellor, when major U.S. newspapers carried front-page stories detailing the Third Reich's crackdown on its political enemies. Headlines also drew attention to the regime's persecution of Jews, which included not only sadistic acts of violence and public humiliation but also the enactment of the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service in April 1933, which barred Jews and political undesirables from civil service. These reports unleashed large-scale demonstrations across the United States that protested escalating violence and, in particular, the worsening plight of Germany's Jews.9
Negative press abated in the United States after an address of May 1933 in which Hitler asserted his peaceful intentions and willingness to enter into a nonaggression pact.10 Among those reassured by the speech was syndicated columnist Walter Lippmann, whose highly influential commentaries for the New York Times and other news outlets helped quell public concern over turmoil in the new Germany. According to him, the country's nationalistic fervor, militarism, and punitive economic measures exacted against sectors of its citizenry (that is, Jews and other undesirables) could be traced back to legitimate grievances over the stringent terms of the Treaty of Versailles.11 Imposed on a defeated Germany in 1919 by the victorious powers, the treaty demanded German disarmament and the payment of reparations, which had pushed the nation to the brink of economic collapse in the early years of the Weimar Republic. Most major newspapers agreed with Lippmann that the regime would resume normalcy once the upheavals of its transition to power had settled down.12
In a letter to Wieland Herzfelde of January 1934, Grosz too registered that initially unfavorable responses of the American public to Hitler had quickly subsided: "And after he gave such pretty speeches about peace, people don't find him quite so bad anymore-one has simply gotten used to his gaping mouth and small, comic moustache."13 Moreover, his anti-Semitism appeared to be little more than part of a general growth in anti-Semitism that prevailed "everywhere" at the time. In any case, Grosz observed, the media had already turned back to headlines about kidnappings and other lurid events that better satiated the American desire for sensationalism.14
This generally quiescent response to Hitler's political activity in the American press and public opinion was matched by the favorable response to his art that appeared in the pages of Time and Life magazines in 1935 and 1936, as noted earlier. Hitler's activities and status as an artist figured differently in discussions that took place within the German emigration and anti-fascist resistance, however.15 Naïve optimism among the exiles gave rise to early reports that focused on Hitler's mediocrity, laziness, and underachieving character. These deficiencies were epitomized for some by the führer's fruitless attempt to enter art school and the unremarkable nature of his brief forays into landscape and postcard painting during World War I. Bertolt Brecht, who fled Germany immediately after the Reichstag fire, lampooned Hitler's failed artistic aspirations in his "Anstreicherchoräle" (Housepainter Anthems), which he shared with Grosz in August 1934. These anthems satirized the Nazi leader as a mere housepainter of paltry creative achievement whose fundamental incompetence was certain to bring the Third Reich to a quick end.
Grosz wrote back to his long-time friend thanking him for his anthems and expressing his delight in Brecht's "brilliant" mockery of Hitler.16 Forced into exile for his stature as one of Weimar Germany's preeminent left-wing theater directors, Brecht fled from Hitler, first through Prague, Vienna, Switzerland, and Paris. He eventually settled on the island of Fyn, near Svendborg, Denmark, where he was to remain for the next six years.17 In exile, he abandoned neither his commitment to revolutionary Marxism nor his belief in an eventual return to a post-Hitler Germany. For his part, Grosz found it impossible to share his friend's political outlook and any optimism about the regime's limited viability that Brecht's "Housepainter Anthem" satires appeared to indulge. Brecht's perspective in this regard accorded with that of Herzfelde and others of Grosz's Marxist friends in exile who remained committed to the revolutionary worker's movement that Grosz by 1934 had long since disavowed. For him, the ultimate failure of the German masses to resist Hitler's rise to power had proven such faith in the redemptive power of the working class misplaced. Much to the dismay of many in the emigration during this period, he made his contrary views known by repeatedly and often belligerently insisting that Hitler was in fact not only precisely the leader the German people desired but also the one they deserved.
Herzfelde remained undaunted by Grosz's cynicism, however, and was joined by others who made several attempts to solicit his contribution to various anti-fascist publication efforts in the early years of the Hitler regime. But Grosz typically refused such overtures, noting that his revolutionary art of the 1920s had done nothing to stop Nazism's triumph. Referring to the fate of his portfolios and illustrated volumes in the book-burning campaigns that inaugurated Hitler's assumption of power, Grosz insisted that his "unburnable" works remained those that hewed to no political line but instead confronted "military brutality" and the grimacing face of a humanity capable of such horror.18 In a letter of June 1934, he confessed to his friend and former publisher that the ongoing threat of dictatorship and war confirmed his skepticism about the efficacy not only of organized political struggle but also of his own politically engaged art.19
Grosz's deepening pessimism appeared borne out by rapid changes in Germany. These included the bloody Night of the Long Knives putsch of June 1934, which eliminated Ernst Röhm and other leaders of the Nazi Party's paramilitary SA (Sturmabteilung) as perceived threats to Hitler's hold on power. In March 1935, the regime also reinstituted the military draft in violation of the Treaty of Versailles. At the Nuremberg Party Rally that September, Hitler announced the so-called Nuremberg Laws, which stripped Jews of their citizenship and prohibited "race mixing" between Jews and "Aryan" Germans. The following year began with another infraction of the Treaty of Versailles when Hitler sent troops into the Rhineland, a territory ordered demilitarized by the victorious powers following World War I.
This darkening news convinced Grosz that war in Europe was imminent.20 He summarized his current views with the publication of his lithographic portfolio Interregnum, which appeared in 1936. The portfolio served, first and foremost, to erase any lingering doubts about his retreat from his communist commitments of the past.21 In a letter to Herzfelde of 1935, Grosz remarked, "all USA papers compare Stalin with Hitler" as part of an emergent totalitarian thesis to which he too now subscribed.22 Particularly after Stalin began his purge of political opponents in the Moscow Show Trials of 1936, commentators increasingly elided distinctions between Nazism and Communism and condemned both as diametrically opposed to the values of American liberal democracy.23 Accordingly, several of Interregnum's sixty-four images portrayed Nazism as simply another face of communism by rendering the two systems as mirror images of each other.
Other works in Interregnum, such as Art Is Eternal, expressed Grosz's conviction about the futility of art in the face of war and these forbidding totalitarian powers (figure 5). The image shows the diminutive figure of an artist precariously suspended between two chairs occupied by the colossal figures of Nazism and communism, which flank the artist at either side. Grosz's misanthropic attitude toward the masses surfaces in other plates of the portfolio that configure groups of workers and storm troopers mimicking one another's actions as they fall into lock-step behind the banners of dictatorial repression. The remaining drawings of Interregnum unfold a catalogue of pettiness, exploitation, and unspeakable brutality unleashed in a world dominated by the twin forces of communism and Nazism and enabled by those subjected to their rule.
The importance of this portfolio to Grosz's subsequent American production cannot be underestimated. It served not only as the last major portfolio of his career but also as a reservoir of reflections to which he repeatedly returned. As we shall see, Grosz reworked several of Interregnum's images into full-scale allegorical oil paintings in the coming years in ways that calibrated his changing responses to the drama of his historical moment. Of particular importance in this regard is plate number 50 of the portfolio, titled So Cain Killed Abel (figure 6). As will be described in chapter 2, this work later reemerged in dramatically altered form as Cain, or Hitler in Hell (1945), the most significant oil painting of Grosz's World War II career. In the painting's precursor, the Cain drawing from Interregnum, Grosz adopts some of the mocking attitude toward Hitler that circulated inside and outside the exile community during the early years of the Nazi regime. However, unlike Brecht's "Housepainter Anthems," which ridiculed the führer on the basis of his failed artistic aspirations, Grosz's image takes aim at Hitler's low-rank infantry status during World War I.
So Cain Killed Abel depicts Hitler as a hapless, perspiring corporal. The drum on which he sits recalls Hitler's role as the propaganda leader, or "drummer," of the National Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP) in 1920, the year before he became the party's chairman. Allegorized as Cain from the fourth book of Genesis, Grosz's beleaguered Hitler mops his brow with one hand as he clutches a limp bunch of flowers in the other. With his rifle propped against his shoulder, he turns away from the body of his brother Abel, who lies face down in the mud beside him. A barbed-wire perimeter and an armed sentry guard protect crenellated and gabled structures in the background from the scene of Hitler's murderous act. Like Cain, he is cast out for his unspeakable crime and condemned to a life of permanent exile from the social order to which he belongs. Recalling the Röhm putsch and the flagrant attacks on Jews and political opponents that had become a staple of everyday life under Hitler, Grosz's lacerating caricature summarizes events of the time in Germany as little more than a senseless and pathetic act of fratricide.
The sense and purposefulness of Hitler's malevolence soon contradicted Grosz's satiric portrayal of the Nazi leader, however. His imperialist intentions became clearer with Germany's formation of the Axis alliance with Italy and the signing of an anti-Comintern pact with Japan in 1936. Under the circumstances, whatever early illusions Grosz and the emigration may have entertained concerning the Nazi leader's humble origins and bumbling incompetence began to fade. Moreover, the staging of the Degenerate Art show in 1937 established Hitler's attitude toward art as part of a new and sharpened understanding of his threat inside and outside the exile community. The regime's radicalized policy on the arts announced to the world at large that its political and militarist designs would also include the conquest of German culture itself. Observers also noted with alarm the extent to which Hitler had assembled an unprecedented mass media juggernaut of radio, film, and print journalism through which to propagate his perspective on art among the German populace.24 Meanwhile, the emigration contended especially with the claim that Nazism's cultural blandishments already had on the allegiance of some leading artists and intellectuals inside Germany. Grosz's friend Gottfried Benn was, for a time, among those seduced by Hitler's promise of German cultural renewal, as were Martin Heidegger and Emil Nolde, among others.
Though twenty of Grosz's paintings and graphics were held up for pillory in the Degenerate Art exhibit, Eclipse of the Sun, which was featured in Benedict Nyson's New York Times commentary on the event, was not among them.25 The work's reproduction, along with Hitler's watercolor, nonetheless helped to solidify in visual terms the contrast between "forbidden" modernism and the "approved" academicism now on offer in the Nazi regime. Before the unveiling of the Degenerate Art show, Grosz's new American audience had acclaimed him as an early anti-fascist on the basis of his incendiary art of the Weimar years. After the opening of the exhibit, he also came to exemplify the culture of artistic experiment forced into exile by Hitler. By then, however, Eclipse of the Sun, which Grosz brought with him to New York in 1933, had languished out of public view for four years as part of a creative past he disavowed.26 Moreover, the new direction that soon became evident in his art bore no resemblance to the persecuted modernism that was now associated with his name.
The Turn to German Tradition
In 1936, Grosz and his family relocated from Bayside to Douglaston, on Long Island. The move inaugurated a period of intense artistic introspection for Grosz that continued through the next several years. The following year, he won a Guggenheim fellowship, as did the American social realist painters William Gropper and Joe Jones and other awardees in science and the arts.27 The Guggenheim gave Grosz national recognition, greater financial stability, and time to devote to his art free of his teaching obligations at the Art Students League. The award was also renewed in 1938. The New York Times announced the renewal in terms that underscored the award's heightened meaning in light of Grosz's status as an "exiled German painter" whose work had recently been excoriated in Munich "as an example of 'degenerate' art."28
Grosz retreated to the solitude of his studio and abandoned the gentle watercolor caricatures of New York social types that had resulted from sojourns through the streets of Manhattan and Harlem during his first years in the city. He surrounded himself instead with handmade brushes, pigments, papers, and canvas as he dedicated his art to exploring old master techniques. He filled the walls of his studio with reproductions of works by Rogier van der Weyden, Matthias Grünewald, and other exemplars of the northern medieval and Renaissance traditions. His subject matter became more intimate, resulting in sensitive charcoal drawings of his children, loving portraits of his wife, Eva, and renderings of her in the nude. Studio props-hats, carnival masks, wicker baskets, bottles, and pieces of colorful fabric-populated his canvases devoted to lavish still life explorations of color and texture (figure 7). Further, in the summer of 1937, Grosz and his family vacationed for the first time in Cape Cod, and they retreated there regularly through 1945. From these visits, he produced an extensive body of drawings and watercolors that explored the region's beaches, wind-swept dunes, and gnarled plant life.
Macabre elements also entered Grosz's artistic contemplations at this time, including drawings devoted to a Grimm's fairy-tale world of witches, spiders, and predatory vultures. The macabre surfaced as well in a series of grotesque and unsettling drapery studies for which he used a mannequin crudely fashioned from linen.29 Grosz carefully recorded the makeshift dummy's deformities with an exacting draftsmanship that detailed its missing head, awkwardly formed hands, riveted torso, and puckered genitalia (figure 8). Such works abandoned the graphic abbreviations of caricature in favor of academic drawing techniques that recalled Grosz's training at the Dresden Academy in the pre-World War I years. In some cases, he used these drawings as preliminary studies for oil paintings, a medium that he turned to once again for the first time since his departure from Berlin.
Grosz's Guggenheim application indicated his desire to use a period of independent work for study of early modern Italian frescoes, particularly those of Orcagna, Michelangelo, and Giotto. He wrote that their engagement with themes of war and hell suggested "a very close relationship between the present turmoil in the world, and the things which were in the artist's mind in those days."30 His letter to the Guggenheim Foundation thus rehearsed programmatic statements of the late Weimar years in which he expressed a similar interest in the relationship between artistic tradition and periods of upheaval. In 1931, he contributed an essay to Paul Westheim's monthly art journal Das Kunstblatt on this subject, titled "Among Other Things, a Word for German Tradition." His discussion of German tradition formed part of a round table devoted to the question of art's relevance in an era increasingly overshadowed by economic collapse and political turmoil. His contribution decried interest in the example of French art and absorption in formal problems at the expense of socially engaged content evident in art produced by certain factions of the German avant-garde. He also argued that such artistic retreat from the world provided no model for German artists confronted with the complexity of their time. Grosz exhorted his fellow artists to turn instead to the German tradition of Hieronymus Bosch, Pieter Bruegel, and other Northern Renaissance masters in their efforts to make an art of consequence to the crises of their own unsettled age.
Grosz's Kunstblatt essay was careful to distinguish between the promotion of Northern Renaissance tradition and the völkisch nostalgia advocated at the time by Paul Schultze-Naumberg and other nationalist ideologues. Contrary to the placid nineteenth-century romanticism preferred by the German right, Grosz looked instead to the Northern Renaissance example of Bosch and Bruegel for traces of historic rupture similar to the "new Middle Ages" of waning humanism that beset the late Weimar years.31 Probing the nature of mysticism, torment, and human failing, Bosch and Bruegel's imagery also charted a northern, Germanic path to the modern world that Grosz believed history now charged German artists to explore and illuminate.
A half decade later and settled in New York, Grosz returned to his own injunction of 1931 for the first time since his arrival in the United States. His engagement with German history and tradition contradicted his current image as a persecuted modernist from Hitler's Third Reich. However, it resonated at the same time with a similar turn to the past that characterized the work of Thomas Mann, Lion Feuchtwanger, Bertolt Brecht, Stefan Zweig, and other German writers of the literary emigration during this period.32This artistic retrospection continued patterns of endeavor that many, like Grosz, had begun in the later 1920s as part of the New Objectivity movement.33Engagement with the past then served as a mode of critically engaging with the causes and consequences of an increasingly threatening present. After 1933, such meditations became only more urgent as the exiles found themselves contending with developments unfolding in the Nazi regime. As soon became plain, Hitler too was bent on reclaiming history, but for the dramatically different purpose of fashioning the German past to suit the future order of his Thousand Year Reich.
As it had in the late Weimar years, the Northern Renaissance once again became the specific touchstone of Grosz's historical consciousness. Poised between medieval mysticism and the enlightenment of the modern age, this period functioned for him as an allegory of the tensions between reason and unreason that characterized the German present. Bosch's and Bruegel's hellish red palettes and tormented sensibility surface in a number of apocalyptic landscapes Grosz produced during this period. Among the first is Polarity (1936), a canvas that captured Grosz's growing conviction that in life "construction and destruction always go hand in hand."34 Accordingly, the image relegates the engineering marvels of the Queensboro Bridge and the skyscrapers of Manhattan to little more than faintly perceptible traces amid the glowing maelstrom of smoke, fire, and water in the lower right corner of the composition (figure 9).
Northern Renaissance precedents also made their way into a series of self-portraits Grosz produced between 1936 and 1938. Most notable is Remembering, which he completed in 1937 (figure 10). The work collapsed past and future into a traumatic present by invoking Grosz's experience of World War I as a second world war loomed on the horizon.35 Accordingly, he depicts himself huddled amid the smoking timbers of a crumbling, burned-out building as he clutches a thin trench coat around his hunched shoulders. One figure helps another to safety behind him, leaving Grosz alone and abandoned in the foreground of the scene with no assurance of return to the familiarity of a life that now lay in ruins. The artist's detailed rendering of his sunken eyes, averted gaze, and deeply furrowed brow underscores the painting's theme of profound psychological trauma and impenetrable loss.
The torment captured in Remembering was likely inspired by the increasingly harrowing stories of Grosz's friends and loved ones, some of whom were still trapped inside Germany while others were scattering into exile. The self-portrait's bleak tenor becomes all the more apparent when compared with a portrait photograph of Grosz from 1928 on which Remembering was likely based (figure 11). The photo was taken atop his parents-in-law's house on Savignyplatz in Berlin. The crumbling timbers depicted in the painted self-portrait find their origin in the low brick wall on which Grosz sits in the photograph. The photo captures him in a moment of casual assuredness, leaning forward with his elbows resting in his lap as he squints into the camera lens. In Remembering, his huddled form and averted gaze emphasize instead the painting's temporally disoriented and psychologically disorienting structure. The artist renders himself not as though in mirror reflection or with the certainty of the camera eye but rather as an "other" who looks away as his existence becomes narrated by and subject to Grosz's artistic scrutiny.
Remembering invokes a Western convention of self-portraiture that since the Renaissance has served as a marker of artistic mastery not only of the oil painting medium but also of the self. Grosz's disturbed self-portrait pointedly challenges the coherence of that convention in its psychic doubling and refusal of such self-mastery. In other works of this period, including Self-Portrait (1937) (figure 12) and Myself and the Barroom Mirror (1937) (figure 13), Grosz similarly depicts himself looking sidelong into mirrors and through fractured planes to suggest a self that has become progressively decentered and oblique.
By 1937, the American life that had grown pleasantly familiar to Grosz during his first years in New York became progressively distant for him. Meanwhile, his German past was evermore painfully and inescapably present. Current events in Germany had indeed rendered the émigré an exile and a stranger in his new home. Those same events also estranged him from the internalized verities of a now discredited German culture and tradition. Grosz configures this desperate sense of displacement by portraying himself in Remembering not as an exile but more specifically as a refugee: as one reduced to the clothes on his back, severed from his place of origin, and bereft of the exile's vision of a future return.
The Exile Community Organizes
Grosz put the finishing touches on Remembering in April 1937. In July, his friend Hermann Borchardt arrived in New York thanks to the efforts of Grosz, Brecht, and others to secure his release from the concentration camp at Dachau.36 Borchardt had gone to teach in Minsk in 1934, where he joined other specialists and technicians invited to work in the USSR in the early 1930s.37 With Hitler's assumption of power came suspicion of German foreign nationals, however. Borchardt was therefore soon expelled from the Soviet Union and sent back to Germany. There, he landed in Dachau, where his Jewish ethnicity and affiliation with communist circles put him in special peril. His brutal treatment in the camp resulted in the mutilation of his right hand and a persistent problem with nervous tremors.38 Safe in New York, he found refuge in Grosz's home. Grosz worked to establish contacts and employment for Borchardt as he grappled with his traumatic experience and tried to adapt to his changed circumstances.
Thomas Mann also arrived in New York in the spring of 1937 with his wife, Katia, for his third visit to America prior to his exile to the United States in 1938. Grosz and Mann had met before, first in Berlin in 1930 and then in New York in 1934, when Mann was on tour to promote the English translation of his Tales of Jacob. Grosz wrote of his 1934 encounter with Mann in a letter to his friend Ulrich Becher, a playwright from his former artistic circle who was then living in Austria.39 He began by acknowledging receipt of Becher's recent account in which he described the brutal murder of the German Jewish anarchist writer Erich Mühsam in the Oranienburg concentration camp.40 Against the backdrop of this Nazi "bestiality" done to such a "completely harmless, idealistic anarchist," Grosz's encounter with Mann had provoked in him little more than exasperation. The celebrated German writer had joined the ranks of the politically naïve, Grosz concluded, especially with regard to his fervent belief in the German masses. Naïve too was his conviction that the Nazi phenomenon would be short lived: "I recently had lunch with Tom Mann. . . . Yes, it was very interesting. Tom is made for writing books, not revolutionary politics. He thinks Hitler won't remain in power much longer. I believe he'll last longer than many assume-carried by the love of his German subjects, heavy industry, the glorious army, and the efficient Gestapo."41
Grosz also maintained that the same masses in which Mann placed his faith would never have any use for the legacy of Goethe and Schiller that Mann so earnestly continued to defend and uphold. In this regard, Grosz's dismissive reaction to Mann in 1934 deviated little from the long-standing enmity that existed between Grosz's radicalized artistic circle and the famed German writer during the Weimar years. Since the publication of his Betrachtungen eines Unpolitischen (Reflections of a Nonpolitical Man) in 1918, Mann had acquired a reputation inside and outside the German left as a political conservative and cultural elitist. His controversial text had defended Germany's authoritarian militarist leadership and its prosecution of World War I. He insisted that the war had been necessary to preserve German Kultur and its towering achievements in the arts and letters against the leveling effects of a democratizing Western Zivilisation. After the war and the collapse of the German monarchy, he continued to maintain his reservations about democracy as an appropriate political form for the German people.42
Mann's politics were undergoing significant change at the time he and Grosz encountered each other in New York, however. His international renown as Germany's leading author had continued to grow throughout the Weimar years, culminating in 1929 when he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. By then, deepening economic crisis and mounting political polarization had prompted him to reevaluate his earlier views. In his "Appeal to Reason" address, delivered in Berlin in 1930, the formerly "nonpolitical man" summarized his new stance by championing social democracy as the best safeguard of German culture in an era beset by political extremism of both the left and the right.43
Mann was abroad on a European lecture tour when Hitler assumed power in 1933. He chose not to return to Germany and instead settled in the town of Küsnacht, near Zurich in Switzerland. Unlike his children Klaus and Erika and his brother Heinrich, Mann refrained from taking a public stand against Hitler during the first years of the Nazi regime. His conspicuous silence caused consternation among many in the exile community who repeatedly urged the Nobel laureate to use his international stature for the purpose of rallying opposition to the Third Reich.44
This silence came to an end after the announcement in December 1936 that Mann had been stripped of his German citizenship and his property seized by the regime.45 The revocation of his honorary doctorate at the University of Bonn soon followed. With his ties to Germany forcibly severed, Mann released his essay "I Accuse the Hitler Regime" for circulation in the international press in March 1937. The Nobel laureate announced that recent events had rendered his idealist belief in a necessary separation between art and politics untenable: "In the Word is involved the unity of humanity, the wholeness of the human problem, which permits nobody, today less than ever, to separate the intellectual and artistic from the political and social, and to isolate himself within the ivory tower of the 'cultural' proper."46 He denounced Hitler's Germany as a betrayal of the true German nation and implored the country's leadership to rededicate itself to a Europe of peaceful national coexistence.
Grosz commented on Mann's statement just days after it appeared. He wrote derisively once again to his friend Ulrich Becher about the essay's cultivated restraint and the "belated" character of Mann's response to the urgent political demands of the moment.47 But Grosz found his negative views quickly sidelined by the outpouring of public support that greeted Mann when he arrived in New York the following month. Interviews, speaking engagements, and national tours rapidly established him as the recognized leader of the German emigration in the United States.
Alvin Johnson, head of the Graduate Faculty of Political and Social Science of the New School for Social Research in New York, was among the first to offer Mann a lecture invitation.48 Johnson's "University in Exile" at the New School had provided a home since 1933 for some of the thousands of scholars deprived of their teaching positions under the Nazi regime.49
A second prominent exile institution, the American Guild for German Cultural Freedom, also embraced Mann on his arrival. The guild was established in 1935 by the German journalist and politician Prince Hubertus zu Löwenstein, who was an early and outspoken critic of Hitler. He and his wife, Princess Helga Maria von Schuylenburg, fled with their daughters after Hitler's appointment as chancellor and immigrated first to Austria and England before coming to the United States. Upon his arrival, Löwenstein sought the backing of luminaries in the Hollywood film industry in his quest to bring Hitler's crimes to world attention.50 He also worked to build support for his guild, which provided financial aid and intellectual community for exiled writers and artists in the United States and abroad.
The guild tirelessly promoted the universal validity of Germany's contribution to world civilization over and against the perversion of German culture then on offer in the Third Reich. Indeed, Löwenstein envisioned his organization as the embodiment of this "other Germany" of enlightened culture and sought to raise international alarm over its imminent extinction under Hitler. In its founding charter, the guild declared its commitment to upholding German tradition "and the true spirit of Germany as expressed by such writers as Lessing, Kant, Schiller and Goethe." To that end, the organization's ultimate aim was to help overthrow the Nazi regime and return the exiles to their rightful home as the authentic bearers of Germany's culture.51 In the meantime, it provided material assistance to Heinrich, Erika, and Klaus Mann, as well as Sigmund Freud, Lion Feuchtwanger, Ernst Toller, and many other leading figures in American exile and abroad. Thomas Mann became a member of the guild's board shortly after his arrival in New York.
Mann's work with Johnson's and Löwenstein's organizations dramatically raised the public profile of the exile community. His changed circumstances also launched Mann on the difficult task of attempting to dismantle the well-entrenched isolationist sentiment that dominated American political culture before 1941. He argued that U.S. entry into the war was necessary to the defense not merely of European culture. Rather, world civilization as a whole now relied on America to safeguard it against the destructive forces of barbarism and tyranny. After a brief return to Europe, Mann ended up once again in the United States in February 1938, where he would remain until his return to Switzerland in 1952. Greeted by the press as he arrived in New York, Mann famously announced, "Where I am, there is Germany. I carry my German culture in me." Exile had become for him that of German culture itself, as it too faced persecution and expulsion under Hitler.52
Early 1938 found Grosz socializing with leading members of the exile community, including his friend and patron Felix Weil, founder of the Frankfurt School for Social Research. Weil had begun supporting Grosz's career with a regular stipend beginning in 1920, a practice that continued after Grosz moved to New York in 1933. An entry in Grosz's diary records a pleasant dinner at the Park Vendome with Weil, Karl Wittfogel, Max Horkheimer, Friedrich Pollock, and Julian Gumperz in late January 1938 as the Frankfurt School for Social Research was in the process of reconstituting itself in exile at Columbia University.53 Under Horkheimer's directorship, the school was then formulating its wide-ranging historical and sociological study of anti-Semitism. It also began its famed critical analyses of German culture before the Third Reich, which endeavored to understand the authoritarian and anti-Semitic roots of Nazism in German society.54
Grosz made other entries in his diary in 1938 that record the growing numbers of friends and acquaintances from his former artistic circle in Berlin who were making their way into American exile. Among them was his former Dada collaborator, Richard Huelsenbeck, for whom Grosz tried in 1934 to arrange a position at Alvin Johnson's New School.55 Grosz's diary also noted lectures at the New School by Bertolt Brecht's collaborator, the composer and committed Communist Party artist Hanns Eisler, who fled Germany immediately following Hitler's assumption of power.56 After stops elsewhere in Europe and in Latin America, Eisler obtained a permanent visa for the United States in 1938 and began conducting composition courses at the New School.
Grosz also made note of the "bad news" coming out of Germany concerning what was left of his formal ties to his country of origin.57 Nazi functionaries seized his Berlin bank account and property belonging to his wife, Eva, in February of that year.58 His German citizenship, which had been unofficially revoked in early 1933, was legally nullified in March 1938. This action prompted a renewed round of vitriol against him in the Nazi press. Writing to John Heartfield in London, Grosz confessed his mordant pleasure in knowing that Hitler's minions still regarded him as the country's "Number One: Cultural Bolshevist."59
March 1938 also marked the Anschluss, Germany's annexation of Austria. Newspaper headlines underscored the plight of Austria's 185,000 Jews who were now certain to swell the ranks of those seeking asylum in the United States and elsewhere. Reports also described Sigmund Freud's thuggish treatment by Nazi authorities in Vienna, which prompted the famed psychoanalyst's flight to exile in London.60 Under the circumstances, Grosz found it all the more impossible to subscribe to redemptive visions of an "other" or "better" Germany then circulating in the exile community.
Grosz had occasion to share his current sentiments in a letter of June 1938, which he wrote to his former collaborator Erwin Piscator. Part of Grosz's leftist artistic circle of the Weimar years, Piscator had solicited his help in 1928 with the staging of an anti-militarist play, The Adventures of the Good Soldier Schwejk, for which Grosz had produced his incendiary caricature of Christ on the cross wearing a gas mask and combat boots. After Hitler's appointment as chancellor in 1933, Piscator departed for Moscow, where he headed up the International Revolutionary Theater Union. In 1936, he immigrated to Paris. By 1939, he was in New York, where he established the Dramatic Workshop at the New School for Social Research.
Steadfast in his leftist convictions, Piscator was among those in the exile community who repeatedly attempted to win Grosz back to his political commitments of the past. He also sought to enlist Grosz's support for the more radical resolution to Germany's current nightmare that he and others on the Marxist left began to advance at this time. They did so over and against the social democratic alternative, championed most notably by Thomas Mann in his many public addresses of this period in which he attempted to envision what a post-Hitler Germany might look like. Writing to Piscator in 1938, Grosz refused his friend's overtures. He also registered his disdain for Piscator's continued allegiance to Communist Party politics. But neither was he prepared to lend his support to the liberal humanist and social democratic visions embraced by Mann and others. For him, the contentious relationship between communist and social democratic adherents that began to roil the exile community simply and exasperatingly reprised the infighting that had facilitated Hitler's rise to power in the late Weimar years. Furthermore, both factions still clung to a misguided belief in a Germany worth redeeming, Grosz railed. The only refuge for him now was his art. Life in the United States allowed him the chance not only to start over but also to escape from a German culture he now held in contempt: "Look, Erwin, I tell you, I don't belong to the patriots à la Mann or Brecht. I only belong to American painting-and I'm also no 'better' German. I can't 'see' any new Germany. . . . NO, dear Erwin, horrible. Bankrupt, broken, debased! One can only do one thing: settle in and work earnestly, that is, begin anew."61
Further notations in Grosz's diary at this time record the Czech crisis and the signing of the Munich Agreement in late September by the British prime minister Neville Chamberlain and France's prime minister Édouard Daladier. The agreement allowed Hitler to annex the German-speaking region of the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia as part of the Allies' misguided effort to stem the Third Reich's imperialist aims. Grosz's diary entries also include his speculation on the imminence of another world war as he finished A Piece of My World II (The Last Battalion) (figure 14).62The work depicts a band of bearded, aging warriors marching through a rat-infested landscape dotted with charred and crumbling structures. They wield in their hands the maces, makeshift pitchforks, bayonets, and rifles of wars past and present. One figure leads the way, carrying aloft a tattered standard inscribed with the image of a piece of meat impaled on a fork. Perpetrators and victims, causes and consequences no longer explain the history of human violence in Grosz's Spenglerian vision. Civilization gives way instead to the brutishness of nature as war becomes nothing more than a ceaseless struggle for food and survival. Echoing the chaotic, forbidding spaces and glowing palettes of Bosch and Bruegel, Last Battalion points to Grosz's deepening interest at this time not only in Northern Renaissance artistic traditions but also and more specifically in the irrationalist contents of those traditions.
Last Battalion departs from the taut surfaces and cleanly delineated forms that characterize Grosz's Neue Sachlichkeit paintings of the late Weimar years. Its turbulent layers of muddy brown, sickly green, and blood red pigment contribute to the work's overall sense of extremity. In 1909, Grosz had begun his training at the Dresden Kunstakademie imbued with the values of Prussian militarism. He aspired in those days to become a history painter dedicated to recording the glories of the battlefront. The Last Battalion returns to those youthful ambitions with a savage pessimism that dispenses altogether with the honorific and didactic purposes of the history-painting tradition. By 1938, that tradition had become for Grosz part and parcel of a tragic and inevitable human condition of struggle, violence, and decay.
Last Battalion was exhibited for the first time in late 1938 at the Carnegie International Exhibition of Paintings in Pittsburgh. Homer Saint-Gaudens, director of fine arts for the Carnegie Institute (now the Carnegie Museum of Art), summarized the show's genesis and curatorial vision in the pages of Carnegie Magazine.63 His tour through Europe to solicit artworks for the international had taken him to Vienna, where Nazi flags and German troops were much in evidence. A visit to Munich had exposed him to the artistic repression under way there and was followed by a trip to Berlin in time to see an iteration of the Degenerate Art show. As a rejoinder to these developments, the 1938 international deliberately hosted a plurality of artistic approaches. Saint-Gaudens defined the show in general as a plea for cultural tolerance in an era when such tolerance appeared to be evermore in jeopardy.
Special interest at the international attended the work of Grosz and other German artists in response to the Degenerate Art exhibit in Munich of the year before. Jurors awarded top prize to Karl Hofer for his allegorical painting The Wind (1937) (figure 15). Hofer had faced repeated attacks in the Nazi press for his criticism of the regime's cultural policies and was dismissed from his teaching post at the Berlin Academy in 1934. Eight of his paintings were displayed in the Degenerate Art show.64 The Wind featured the restrained style of semiabstract naturalism characteristic of Hofer's work during this period. The painting depicts two women who huddle together and clasp their loose draperies about them as they face in the direction of an oncoming gale. Wind whips their hair and clothing as they stand framed against a backdrop of a low and distant landscape dominated by darkening sky. The fragile vulnerability of the two female figures heightens the portentous subject matter of the image in ways that no doubt resonated with current concerns. The award of first prize to Hofer made him the first German artist to be so honored by the Carnegie International in its history.65
Indeed, late 1938 marked a high point of international alarm over events inside Nazi Germany. The regime's increasingly radicalized policies against the Jews became evident to the world with the so-called Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass) of 9 November 1938. The pogrom was sparked by the actions of a German-born Jewish refugee living in Paris who assassinated a German diplomat in the hopes of drawing world attention to Nazi persecution. In retaliation, synagogues throughout Germany were destroyed, and mobs smashed and ransacked some seven thousand stores owned by Jews. Over ninety German Jews were murdered and another thirty thousand German Jewish men were thrown into concentration camps.66 Grosz responded to the Kristallnacht pogrom with a lament of self-loathing recorded in his diary. "Events in Germany disgusting . . . one is ashamed to be a German," he wrote.67
Grosz was not alone in his sense of revulsion. Extensive news coverage of Kristallnacht prompted a sea change not only in American public opinion but also in government policy. The German-language New Yorker Staatszeitung und Herold, which had earlier defended Hitler, joined a growing press chorus by condemning the Nazi regime.68 President Roosevelt recalled the U.S. ambassador to Germany and pressed for increased defense spending in anticipation of war.69 He now also used his presidential authority to bypass the immigration quota and entrenched public resistance to expanding immigration by easing restrictions on Jews seeking to enter the country. In addition, he moved to extend indefinitely visitor visas held by German and Austrian Jews already in the United States.70 Meanwhile, Roosevelt continued an ineffectual international dialogue on how to provide for the mounting number of refugees, including the large number of Jews among them, who were then desperately seeking refuge abroad.71
A few short weeks after Kristallnacht, Grosz became an American citizen. Reporters covered the registration of the famed exile at the federal court in Brooklyn. In an interview with the New York Times, Grosz attempted to dispel perceptions that all Germans endorsed anti-Semitism. "Many so-called Aryans now in Germany were opposed to the Nazi persecution of the Jews," he insisted.72 His fresh status as an American citizen was inaugurated with the display of his work at the Whitney Museum's Annual Exhibition of Contemporary American Painting, which was held in November and December 1938. The new American Grosz was represented by his brooding self-portrait Remembering (1937), a work dedicated to memories of a past from which Grosz's recent citizenship and formal entrée into the American art world promised to insulate him.
Whatever reassurances Grosz might have anticipated from American citizenship were immediately compromised both politically and economically by the worsening situation in Europe, however. The number of refugees fleeing to the United States grew dramatically following Kristallnacht and the further radicalization of Nazi policies within Germany. German immigration reached its peak in the years 1938 through 1940.73 Fear of fascism abroad became fear of fascism at home as the arrival of those fleeing the Third Reich drew greater attention to the German presence in the United States. Press coverage of Fritz Kuhn's German American Bund helped to fuel growing anti-German sentiment.74 In 1939, the pro-Nazi group held a rally with speeches praising Hitler at Madison Square Garden, which numbered some twenty thousand participants in the audience.75 Popular fears were further stoked by the April 1939 release of the Hollywood thriller Confessions of a Nazi Spy. The widely reported foiling of a Nazi spy ring in New York City the previous year provided the film's sensational storyline.76 Such events aroused concern that more Nazi spies might infiltrate the stream of refugees.77
Klaus and Erika Mann attempted to counter these negative perceptions with the publication of their book Escape to Life in 1939. Klaus had immigrated to New York in 1936 and was followed the year after by Erika. In compiling Escape to Life, the two made use of Grosz in their volume's effort to offer a less threatening image of the exile community to an increasingly wary American public. The first part of Escape to Life, "The European Scene," detailed the oppressive conditions that drove the exiles from their home. The second, "Exiles in America," considered the activities of the American Guild for German Cultural Freedom and the many contributions of the exiles to film, literature, music, and the visual arts since their arrival in the United States. The Manns insisted that these exiles represented a "true German culture" categorically opposed to Nazism and committed to values of democracy and freedom.78
The Manns presented Grosz in Escape to Life as an example of the positive assimilation of advanced German art and artists into the culture of the United States. They acknowledged that the misanthropic satirist of the Weimar years was still in evidence from time to time, particularly when Grosz insisted on making unsavory comments ("Hitler-that's the man the Germans like") about the German people and their allegiance to the Nazi regime. But these outbursts had become fewer and further between since his arrival in the United States, the Manns claimed. His new environs had changed Grosz for the better. Now a lyrical landscape painter, "he loves America. Surprising as it may seem, America has softened him," they wrote.79
Escape to Life's privileging of Grosz's landscape work over his self-portraits and historical allegories overlooked the more troubled and troubling dimensions of his recent production. It also brushed aside the Manns' earlier political conflicts with him in the interest of a new image of the exile community Escape to Life sought to present. In 1936, Klaus Mann joined those on the left who attacked Grosz for his refusal to engage in the Popular Front struggle against fascism and his abandonment of politically engaged art.80 Escape to Life suggested that such political fractiousness among the exiles had now become a thing of the past. A softened presentation of Grosz and his art assisted the Manns in their effort to portray the German exile community as a positive, depoliticized, cultural contribution to an American public increasingly discomfited by its presence.
The Manns thus attempted to ameliorate some of the negative cultural politics that confronted the German exile community as its ranks began to swell. But economic factors also took their toll as lingering effects of the Great Depression further worsened conditions for refugees from the Third Reich. In May 1939, Grosz wrote to his friend the writer Walter Mehring, who had recently fled to France in the hopes of eventually making his way to the United States. Mehring spent considerable time in Paris in the 1920s and had managed to establish a literary reputation for himself there. Grosz advised him to remain in France, where he was known, rather than subject himself to the anonymity and hardship that confronted those trying to reestablish themselves in American exile. Most found it nearly impossible to find work and were reduced to taking charity. Moreover, their prospects had only become worse in recent months as their numbers continued to grow.81
Grosz's own financial outlook became more precarious during this period as public response to his current work floundered. A solo exhibition of his art opened at the Walker Galleries in New York in March 1939. The show featured the full range of Grosz's recent production, including Last Battalion and a selection of his Cape Cod landscapes, still lifes, and depictions of the female nude. A Time magazine review praised Grosz's still life and nude studies but was more tentative in its evaluation of the "ruined landscapes" featured in his oil paintings.82 It described Last Battalion as "a grey and dirt-colored allegory of war which, like the Thirty Years War in Europe (1618-48), lasted so long that men forgot, in disease, starvation and insanity, what they were fighting for." The grim imagery of such works contrasted with the lighter, more accessible quality of his still life and nude compositions. Time concluded that Last Battalion also harked back to Grosz's condemnations of militarism during World War I, suggesting that his "ruined landscapes" pointed more toward Grosz's artistic past than toward a new direction for his art.
More damning, however, was the review of Grosz's Walker Galleries exhibit by Elizabeth McCausland, art critic for the Springfield Sunday Union and Republican newspaper, in Massachusetts.83 McCausland took the opportunity of Grosz's recent production to render a broader judgment on the German exile community and its responses to Hitler's escalating menace in Europe. Her impassioned comments, in which she assailed Grosz's apparent retreat from political engagement in his art, gained a wider art world audience when they were made the subject of an article titled "Citizen or Artist?" which appeared in the Art Digest the following month.84
The impetus behind McCausland's analysis was a recent speech delivered at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York by the exiled architect and former Bauhaus director Walter Gropius. Gropius spoke in December 1938 in connection with MoMA's landmark Bauhaus, 1919-1928, exhibition, which introduced American audiences to the high modernist achievements in architecture and design that had emerged at the Bauhaus during the years of Gropius's leadership of the school. After its founding in 1919, the school became renowned among some and vilified by others, the latter particularly by those of Germany's nationalist right, for its socially progressive pedigree and ability to attract an international array of leading artists, architects, and designers to its staff. MoMA's Bauhaus, 1919-1928, exhibition suppressed these politically controversial aspects of the school in favor of a display that foregrounded its achievements in solely aesthetic terms. Accordingly, Gropius's speech to his MoMA audience abstained from political commentary and made plain his current conviction that art has fundamentally nothing to do with politics.85
In her review of Grosz's Walker Galleries exhibit, McCausland observed that Grosz too had evidently adopted Gropius's position, given the character of his recent art. This change was for her all the more egregious in the face of Grosz's recent acquisition of American citizenship. Asking "Shall the artist concern himself only with his art or shall he take part in the wider life of a citizen?" McCausland claimed that his experience of tyranny in Germany demanded from him a special responsibility to use his art in defense of the freedom he now enjoyed in the United States. By contrast, Thomas Mann served McCausland as a positive example of those exiles who had thrown themselves into the struggle to defend American democratic liberties against the threat of dictatorship and war. Grosz's landscapes and nudes, as well as the relentless pessimism of his painted allegories, offered little of value in this regard. He had surrendered to an "expressionist ideology," McCausland lamented, and had proven himself more concerned with exploring inner emotions than with making his art of use to the current struggle. The untimeliness of Grosz's abstinence from politically directed work was thrown into high relief in late 1939 with the opening of the Museum of Modern Art's Picasso retrospective. The exhibit dominated art press coverage well into 1940 for its display of Guernica, Picasso's impassioned plea for world attention to the spread of fascism and war in Europe.
A despondent note in Grosz's diary records that none of his works in the Walker Galleries show found a buyer.86 More bad news came in the form of a letter from his patron Felix Weil, who had helped to support Grosz's career with a monthly stipend. He told Grosz that the amount of the stipend would be reduced, in part because Weil's own finances were low. He also wanted to direct what he had to those more in need, including others who were struggling in exile or were currently interned in camps.87 Grosz's response to his declining fortunes was increasing bitterness and estrangement from those he derisively referred to as the exile "elite." His letters and diaries express his outright jealousy of artistic and intellectual luminaries of the emigration who enjoyed greater support than their fellow exiles from welcoming American institutions and organizations. This support eluded him and others, Grosz complained, who were left to struggle on their own to get by. He also began to view this exile elite as synonymous with a self-congratulatory "other Germany," confident of its restoration to cultural leadership in Germany after Hitler's defeat.
In a letter to Borchardt, who was also struggling at this time, Grosz described his recent attendance at a lavish cocktail party hosted by Erwin Piscator, who had arrived in New York in January 1939. The fact that Piscator's comfortable lifestyle and enviable financial "independence" had been made possible by his wife's fortune did not escape Grosz's disdainful notice.88 Among the "hundreds of the finest heads in the emigration" in attendance at Piscator's party were Princess Löwenstein, Hanns Eisler, Lotte Lenia, Ernst Toller, and Felix Weil. Grosz bitterly satirized the "aristocratic" gathering as deluded by the belief they would one day march triumphantly through the Brandenburg Gate as their fellow countrymen welcomed them back with open arms.89
Contrary to Grosz's ungenerous comments regarding prominent members of the emigration, many among them also struggled to survive within the new and dislocating environment to which they were now subjected. This misapprehension was made poignantly clear by the suicide of Ernst Toller on 22 May 1939. Since his flight to the United States, Toller had emerged as a tireless and courageous voice of the anti-fascist resistance. However, his attempts to find his financial footing and reestablish his career as a writer in exile were repeatedly frustrated. His bouts of depression and decision to take his own life shocked the exile community; it also became emblematic for many of the fragility and tragedy that haunted their efforts to resume their lives amid the disorientation of their changed circumstances.
By early 1939, Grosz's letters, diaries, and experiences thus reflected in personal and embittered terms the political and economic factionalism that compromised attempts to organize the broader German exile community from within.From without, the release of an unabridged edition of Hitler's Mein Kampf of 1924 heightened international alarm and subjected the exiles and their activities to more intensive scrutiny by their American hosts.90 Published by the New School for Social Research, the unexpurgated translation presented a different Hitler to those who had previously underestimated his threat. Commentators and analysts had tended to dismiss the German führer's notions of racial hegemony and territorial expansion as shallow propagandistic ranting with little import for the regime's policies. Many also mistook his hatred for the Jews as an incidental, not central aspect of Nazi ideology. By contrast, the new edition of Mein Kampf revealed that such notions were long-standing in Hitler's plans, methodical, and rooted in political calculation.91
Against this backdrop of inflamed suspicion regarding Hitler, Germans, and the growing exile population, Esquire magazine featured an essay by Thomas Mann in March 1939 that attempted to address the reality of Hitler's continued grip on power despite earlier predictions of his short-lived viability. Titled "That Man Is My Brother," the essay diagnosed the führer's sway over the German populace by turning to the theme of Hitler as a failed artist. This theme had animated Brecht's "Housepainter Anthems," which he shared with Grosz in 1934 and circulated more broadly within the emigration as a satiric assault on the Nazi leader in the early years of his rule. In Mann's hands, the subject of the führer's artistic capacities now departed from satire and assumed the gravitas that a darkening situation in Europe demanded of attempts to come to terms with the Hitler phenomenon.
Mann's Esquire essay built on psychoanalytic analyses of Hitler that had appeared in the English-language press in the mid-1930s. Most important among these was a study published by the exiled journalist Konrad Heiden in 1936.92 His Hitler: A Biography described the Nazi leader as a split personality, or "two Hitlers," whose disturbed psychology placed him at odds with normative society. Heiden explained that Hitler's psyche was torn between his identity as an underachieving postcard illustrator on the one hand and his thirst for grandiosity and control over the masses on the other. To explain the support that such a disturbed figure enjoyed among the German people, Heiden looked to economic factors and the impact of the Great Depression. These desperate times had prompted the Germans to identify positively with Hitler as someone who arose from humble origins to unparalleled power. Heiden theorized that the Nazi leader symbolized for them the possibility of one day overcoming their own adverse circumstances.93
In his "Appeal to Reason" address of 1930, Mann had argued, contrary to Heiden, that economic factors alone could not explain the attraction of the German electorate to Nazism in the waning years of the Weimar Republic.94 With the publication of his "That Man Is My Brother" in 1939, Mann expanded on his rejection of Heiden's economic determinism. He argued that the root of the problem lay not in Germany's economy but in its vaunted notions of German Kultur, including its legacy of romantic nationalism. According to Mann, contemporary Germans were heir to this nineteenth-century tradition and its cult of creative genius. That cult, in turn, predisposed them to a worshipful regard for Hitler and an egoistic identification with the appeal of a strong leader.95 Moreover, their reverence for German culture in general now served to legitimate the arrogant nationalism that fueled Nazism's imperialist aims.
Mann's use of the notion of brotherhood to describe his relationship to Hitler in the pages of Esquire recalls Grosz's So Cain Killed Abel, of 1936, in which he too addressed this theme of kinship. In Grosz's caricature, however, the story of Cain and Abel served to underscore the criminality of Hitler's act as a betrayal of fundamental human bonds. So Cain Killed Abel portrayed Hitler, true to the biblical allegory, as a social outcast condemned to permanent exile for his unspeakable crime. By contrast, Mann used the notion of brotherhood to dramatically different ends. Emphasizing familial kinship over fratricide, "That Man Is My Brother" instead used the notion of brotherhood as a means to probe the aberrant as an aspect of-not a deviation from-the German culture that had given rise to Hitler.
Most startling in this regard were Mann's observations concerning Heiden's psychological portrait of Hitler as a disturbed, asocial personality. Such a personality was indeed that of an artist, Mann maintained. Like an artist, Hitler indulged hostility for mainstream culture, idealized power, and longed to shape social reality according to his aesthetic ideals. The Nazi leader was, in short, no mere housepainter but rather an artist in the profoundest and most unsettling sense possible. In Mann's view, the task that lay before the emigration was to confront their monstrous kinship with Hitler, not only as fellow Germans, but also as fellow artists. He admitted that such a painful process of self-scrutiny was not without peril for the exile community. Like the many Germans-including notable artists and intellectuals-who enabled the Nazi regime, they too might abdicate their historical responsibility by "forgetting how to say no" to the powerful seductions of Nazism: "A brother-a rather unpleasant and mortifying brother. He makes me nervous, the relationship is painful to a degree. But I will not disclaim it. For I repeat: better, more productive, more honest, more constructive than hatred is recognition, acceptance, the readiness to make oneself one with what is deserving of our hate, even though we run the risk, morally speaking, of forgetting how to say no."96
The German-language version of Mann's Esquire essay, titled "Bruder Hitler," appeared simultaneously in Leopold Schwarzschild's Das neue Tage-Buch, the most influential journal of the international German exile community.97 It soon ignited heated controversy among exiles in the United States and abroad. For many, "Brother Hitler" conjured unthinkable associations between the German exile community and the Nazi phenomenon; it also countered the efforts of those who had worked scrupulously to distance themselves from such associations, especially in a time of escalating anti-German sentiment.98
As war loomed on the horizon, attention shifted in the exile community from resisting fascism to contemplating Germany's fate in the coming conflict. Though Mann's "Brother Hitler" implied the capacity of the German people for critical enlightenment, it also suggested the presence of deep-seated cultural inclinations among the German masses that might prove difficult to uproot. Beginning in 1940, Mann worked with the BBC in London to produce broadcasts targeted at Germany that urged German citizens to distance themselves from Hitler and to prove to the world that the terms German and Nazi were not one and the same.
Meanwhile, Schwarzschild further fanned the flames of debate concerning the German masses by expressing his own conclusions on the question of the country's postwar future. His editorial "The Day After" appeared in Das neue Tage-Buch in July 1939. It argued that Germany's history was one of a weak relationship to democracy as evidenced most recently by the fatal instability of the Weimar Republic. Schwarzschild concluded that Germany would therefore have to be administered by occupying powers after the war. Such administration would last for an indefinite period as it undertook the necessary and painstaking task of weaning the Germans away from their penchant for authoritarianism and educating them in the ways of liberal democracy.99
German Exile and the American Art World
As the exile community thus turned its attention to Germany's fate in a post-Hitler future, the role of German exile art and artists in a rapidly consolidating American vision of that same future became apparent in the spring of 1939. In May, the Museum of Modern Art staged its Art in Our Time show to coincide with the beginning of the New York World's Fair. Art in Our Time marked MoMA's tenth anniversary and inaugurated the opening of the museum's new building on 53rd Street in Manhattan. The exhibit featured a wide-ranging display of American and European modernism dating from the late nineteenth century to the present in painting, sculpture, graphic media, photography, architecture, the industrial arts, and film.
In the wake of the Degenerate Art show, Art in Our Time also set forth MoMA's new understanding of its cultural mission in the face of growing tyranny abroad. In his opening statement, museum director Alfred Barr described the current struggle as one between the innovative pluralism of modernist art championed by MoMA and a backward-looking academicism demanded of artists under the twin dictatorships of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. In the case of Soviet Russia, the imposition of socialist realism stemmed from Lenin's professed dislike for the avant-garde in the early 1920s. In Germany, the recasting of the German art world was similarly beholden to Hitler's personal taste. His hostility toward modernism had succeeded in degrading an artistic culture that Barr had once ranked as second only to that of France. The MoMA director further excoriated the führer's academicism for pandering to the lowbrow standards of his party minions and the simmering resentment of those artists whose careers had been eclipsed by the success of modernism in the Weimar years: "In spite of his radical political philosophy Hitler's taste in art is as reactionary as was that of Lenin in the Russian revolution of twenty years ago. Hitler was at one time a painter of feeble and mediocre academic water-colors-a fact which seems permanently to have affected his taste. His antipathy toward new forms of art and architecture found a good deal of sympathy among the less cultivated Brown Shirts, as well as among academic artists who seized the opportunity to recover some of their lost prestige."100
The presence of German modernism at the MoMA show was headlined by Max Beckmann's triptych Departure, which was completed by the artist in 1933 as Hitler came to power (figure 16). Beckmann had enjoyed international renown as Germany's leading expressionist painter of the 1920s. In May 1933, he was deprived of his teaching post at the Frankfurt Academy. He and his wife, Mathilde ("Quappi," as she was known), chose to remain in Germany until 20 July 1937, the day after the -Degenerate Art show opened in Munich. They then fled into exile in Amsterdam. Characteristically aloof from politics throughout his career, Beckmann maintained his defense of art's autonomy from political manipulation, not only by the Nazi regime, but also by German exile groups that attempted to recruit him and his work for their anti-fascist endeavors.101
In the context of the Art in Our Time exhibit, Departure functioned not only as an allegory of exile but also as evidence of MoMA's important role in an ongoing project of cultural rescue. In the wings of his Departure triptych, Beckmann portrays sadistic tortures that take place in cramped, darkened spaces. The center panel, by contrast, presents an oarsman and a royal family as they sail off into a wide-open blue sea. True to his belief in the separation of art from politics, Beckmann consistently denied any political allegory in this image of leave-taking. The triptych's style and subject matter nonetheless lent itself to the larger theme of modern art's flight from tyranny presented by the Art in Our Time exhibit in 1939. Not only artists but also works of art were now to be saved by the United States and given harbor within the museum's walls. The MoMA catalogue informed viewers of Beckmann's current status by describing Departure as a symbol of his exile "caused by official disapproval of his art" in Hitler's Germany.102
MoMA thus capitalized on its defense of modernism in expressly political terms as contributing to the support of democratic freedom against dictatorship. Contrary to the larger political message of the exhibit, a strategy of depoliticization nonetheless characterized Barr's presentation of Beckmann and works of art by other German modernists in Art in Our Time. This presentation followed Barr's long-standing curatorial commitment to formalist innovation over and against extra-artistic concerns of political or social engagement. Under Barr's direction, MoMA first presented German modernism to the New York art world with the staging of its German Painting and Sculpture exhibit in 1931. In the Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism (1936) and Bauhaus (1938) exhibits that followed, MoMA continued to integrate German art into its evolving formalist history of modernism. This included expunging socially critical works from the overall presentations of modern German art these shows might otherwise have entailed and downplaying the politicized context that had shaped the emergence and continued practice of modern art in Germany.
In Art in Our Time, Dada and its association with leftist politics were therefore notably absent. So too were any exponents of Germany's New Objectivity movement and its uncomfortable associations with the academic verism dictated by political reaction under the Nazi regime. With its emphasis on psychological interiority, expressionism instead became the depoliticized representative of the whole of Germany's contribution to the history of modernism.103 Works by Beckmann, Emil Nolde, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, and other expressionist artists displayed in the Art in Our Time show were praised for their figural distortions and subjective use of color. They were also lauded for their insistence on individual expression and a distinctly German form of inner-directedness rooted in a pathos and melancholy often suggestive of "an intense, even violent, emotional state."104 Insofar as expressionism's pathos might be understood to gesture beyond the realm of art, it was only to register the impact of Germany's troubled history on the personal temperaments of these artists. Their works had now found refuge in MoMA's collection and continued to serve in exile as their country's most towering representatives of advanced art.
The German art dealer Curt Valentin of the Buchholz Gallery in New York loaned Departure to MoMA for the duration of the Art in Our Time exhibit.105 As records from the Reichskulturkammer (Reich Chamber of Culture) reveal, Valentin was one among several art dealers who received authorization from the Nazi government to sell "degenerate art" abroad, with proceeds to return to the Reich. Valentin also served as intermediary for MoMA's acquisition of five works "exiled" from Hitler's Germany included in the Art in Our Time show and reproduced in its catalogue.106 The five works were Henri Matisse's Blue Window (1912), formerly in the collection of the Folkwang Museum in Essen; André Derain's Valley of the Lot at Vers (1912), from the Cologne Museum; Ernst Ludwig Kirchner's Street Scene (1913) and Wilhelm Lehmbruck's Kneeling Woman (1911), both from the Berlin National Gallery; and Paul Klee's Around the Fish (1926), from the Dresden Gallery. Three of these, the Kirchner, Lehmbruck, and Klee works, had been featured in the Degenerate Art exhibit of 1937; all were subsequently purchased at the Gallery Fischer auction of 1939 in Lucerne, Switzerland, where modernist art confiscated under the Third Reich was sold off for revenue to support Hitler's expansionist war.107
In his radio address to dedicate the opening of the new museum building, President Roosevelt hailed MoMA as a "citadel of civilization." He praised in particular the museum's plans for traveling shows devoted to contemporary developments in architecture, industrial design, painting, film, and other areas of creative endeavor. Roosevelt linked these plans to the legacy of the Federal Art Project, launched under the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in the 1930s. Like this federal program, MoMA's exhibitions would help to elevate the aesthetic standards of the people while ensuring broad public access to art in the spirit of the country's democratic ideals.108 The president also made plain how current events had cemented the connection between aesthetic experiment and democratic liberty:
The arts cannot thrive except where men are free to be themselves and to be in charge of the discipline of their own energies and ardors. The conditions for democracy and for art are one and the same. What we call liberty in politics results in freedom in the arts. . . . A world turned into a stereotype, a society converted into a regiment, a life translated into a routine, make it difficult for either art or artists to survive. Crush individuality in society and you crush art as well. Nourish the conditions of a free life and you nourish the arts too.109
The presence of European modernist works in MoMA's Art in Our Time thus testified to Roosevelt's vision of the United States as a haven of democratic liberty. Given Grosz's pillory inside Nazi Germany, his art of the past might also have served a similar function had it been included alongside other exemplars of persecuted European modernism in the MoMA display. Because of his new U.S. citizenship, however, his works appeared instead in the section devoted to American watercolors. Two watercolors, In the Park (1933) and Chef (1934), depicted New York social types, and the third, Punishment (1934), portrayed the aerial bombardment of a city. Together the works spanned the range of gentle caricature and social criticism that had characterized Grosz's production during his first years in New York City. Excluded from the display were any of the tormented allegories, self-portraits, and mordant fairy-tale imagery that constituted his more recent art.
The MoMA catalogue heralded Grosz as a welcome newcomer to a vibrant school of American watercolorists that included Maurice Prendergast, George Overbury Hart, John Marin, Charles Demuth, and Charles Burchfield. It also insisted that his work had undergone significant change since his arrival in the United States: "In America he has abandoned in large part the vitriolic caricatures which made him admired and hated in Germany, and has taken his place as one of our foremost watercolorists."110 A review of the exhibit in Life magazine classified Grosz among those currently contributing to the "good health of our national art today," not by forging new directions in art, but rather by reviving for American audiences and artists the lessons of the European old masters.111
The presentation of Grosz's watercolors in Art in Our Time was similar to the manner in which he and his work were promoted at the New York World's Fair, which opened concurrently with MoMA's exhibit. Fair organizers, too, emphasized his value as an exemplar of European cultural traditions of the past made available to the present and future advancement of American art and culture. His work titled Tramp (1937), which depicts a vagrant slumped against a wall on a city street, was put on display in the fair's Gallery of American Art Today along with twelve hundred works by other American artists.112
When the Soviet pavilion at the New York World's Fair was dismantled in the wake of the Hitler-Stalin pact of 23 August 1939, Grosz was also among those honored in the American Commons that took its place. Included in the commons were twenty-one panels inscribed with over six hundred names of "American Citizens of Foreign Birth, American Indians and Negroes who have made Notable Contributions to our Living, Ever-Growing Democracy devoted to Peace and Freedom." His name appeared under the German section on a Wall of Fame that presented the "immigrant and what he has brought to America." Listing seventy-nine names in all, Germany boasted the highest number of those who had contributed to the American melting pot in the fields of music, law, science, education, literature, and other realms of creative and intellectual endeavor. The names of Albert Bierstadt, Emmanual Leutze, Thomas Nast, and many lesser-known German-born artists appeared alongside Grosz's as representatives of Germany's contribution to American culture in the visual arts.113
Through these strategies of depoliticization and historicization, MoMA's Art in Our Time and the New York World's Fair thus helped lay the groundwork for German art's positive assimilation into an emergent narrative of American cultural hegemony. That narrative included the promotion of modern art as an emblem of America's commitment to democracy and individual, free expression against the repressive forces of tyranny. Ironically, these values of democracy and freedom were severely tested by the controversy that arose over the presentation of Germany's national contribution at the fair. After the Nazi government declined official participation, Thomas Mann and others of the American Guild for German Cultural Freedom urged the German exile community to take responsibility for representing Germany at the event. Mann argued that such a display should not only denounce Hitler's Germany but also demonstrate the positive, creative dimensions of German culture past and present.114
Prince Hubertus zu Löwenstein served as go-between for the American Guild and the Deutsche Kulturkartell, an umbrella organization of German exile groups based in Paris, which undertook the task of preparing a presence for the Europe-based German exile community at the world's fair. The Kulturkartell's efforts resulted in plans for the Freedom Pavilion, consisting of an art gallery and a hall of science. These spaces were intended to showcase contributions made to American culture by New York-based exiles and to bring to American attention works by authors banned in Germany, including Thomas Mann, Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, Erich Maria Remarque, and Stefan Zweig.
Debate erupted over the Kulturkartell's plan for the Freedom Pavilion's image and text panel display, however.115 The placards for the display, which was titled Germany of Yesterday-Germany of Tomorrow, were collaboratively composed by over thirty exiled journalists, historians, and artists (among them Max Ernst, Hans Kralik, and Eugen Spiro). They enumerated the various oppressive measures taking place in Nazi Germany, including the regime's persecution of Jews and its suppression of modernist art. Using bold graphics and montage, the panels attempted to redirect the Third Reich's manipulative use of mass media imagery and communicative strategies to underscore the urgency of the Nazi assault on German culture. In addition, the narrative structure of the Germany of Yesterday-Germany of Tomorrow display entered into debate with the Hitler regime over the course of German history. The panels nominated the sixteenth-century Peasant's War as the origin of a democratizing process that culminated in the spread of French revolutionary ideals into Germany after 1789. Contrary to the Nazi historical imagination, the display argued further that the Prussian regime of 1871 and Hitler's assumption of power in 1933 were nothing less than historic betrayals of Germany's rightful claim to enlightened thought.116
In New York as elsewhere, the presentation of German art in exile was subject to the rapidly changing vagaries of international diplomacy, commercial interests, and isolationism. Fair organizers, more concerned with maintaining positive political and business ties with Nazi Germany than championing the cause of democracy and free expression, quashed the Freedom Pavilion at the last minute. And though Hitler's Germany had no formal presence at the world's fair, state-sanctioned art was nonetheless included in the IBM pavilion. Thomas J. Watson, president of International Business Machines, also served as president of the International Chamber of Commerce. As Laura Hobson of The Nation pointed out, Watson had been specially "decorated" by the Third Reich in 1937 for his business connections to the regime.117
Mann responded to the derailment of the exile community's protest exhibit by helping Mayor Fiorello La Guardia of New York lay the cornerstone of the Palestine Pavilion at the fair's opening ceremonies.118 La Guardia had faced severe press condemnation for actions he took against German business interests in New York following the passage of the Nuremberg Laws.119 The dedication of the Palestine Pavilion took place against the backdrop of lingering attention to the plight of the SS St. Louis, a ship of Jewish refugees that left Hamburg in May 1938. Roosevelt refused its entry into the United States after the ship was turned away from Cuba in a move that some construed as evidence of the president's insensitivity to the plight of the Jews.120 As the tragedy of the refugees continued to go unanswered, Roosevelt appealed to Britain to allow for the politically less volatile option of allowing Jewish refugees to settle in Palestine, despite Arab uprisings against the flow of Jews into the area.121
In response to anti-Semitic Nazi press claims that the exile community's proposed Freedom Pavilion at the World's Fair was nothing more than a "pavilion of Jewish jetsam," Mann pointedly spoke at the dedication of the Palestine Pavilion concerning the current persecution of the Jews abroad and his solidarity with Roosevelt's plan for the building of the Jewish colony in Palestine. At the same time and more controversially, his comments also highlighted the presence of anti-Semitism in the United States and the ongoing efforts of Mann, members of the exile community, and American progressives to confront this growing racist sentiment.
The War at Home and Abroad
In October 1939, Ludwig Wronkow of the German-American Writers Association solicited Grosz's contribution to a journal that had been organized in response to this specter of intensifying anti-Semitism on American soil. Titled Equality, the journal began publication in May 1939 for the purpose of countering Catholic priest Father Coughlin's right-wing paramilitary group, the Christian Front, and his anti-Semitic magazine, Social Justice.122 Coughlin used his radio broadcasts and the pages of Social Justice to warn of Jewish infiltration and to fulminate against Roosevelt's New Deal as a communist plot. Equality's mission was to provide an alternative image of the religious community by advocating tolerance and promoting an alliance between Jews and Catholics in the struggle against racism and anti-Semitism.
In his letter to Grosz, Wronkow noted that Thomas Mann, Albert Einstein, Oskar Maria Graf, and others of the German-American Writers Association had agreed to contribute their views on Hitler's Germany to a special edition of Equality. He assured Grosz that he need not create anything new but could instead use something from one of his earlier portfolios. Wronkow explained his request by noting that the message of Grosz's earlier art remained shockingly current. "Twenty years ago you had indeed already and prophetically intuited today's Germany," he observed. Grosz's initial response is captured in an exasperated notation ("Can't do it, why should I reproduce old work? Belong to another time") on the back of Wronkow's solicitation.123 Grosz nonetheless acquiesced despite his evident dismay at this appeal to his creative past. A version of his notorious image of Christ on the cross wearing a gas mask and combat boots appeared in the April 1940 edition of Equality. As discussed in the introduction to this book, Grosz first produced his image of Christ for Piscator's staging of The Adventures of the Good Soldier Schwejk in 1928. There it formed part of the radical theater director's anti-militarist, Marxist left critique of the church and its complicity in Germany's resurgent militarism and exploitation of the working class. Reproduced in Equality in 1940, Grosz's image now complemented instead the issue's admonition against religious and racial hatred as causes of the ongoing war in Europe and growing social conflict in the United States.
Equality was among numerous liberal and leftist publications that also took a stand against the activities of the House Un-American Activities Committee during this period. HUAC continued the role of the Special Committee on Un-American Activities, which was founded in 1934 for the purpose of rooting out Nazi and fascist groups. In 1938, the Democratic congressman Martin Dies of Texas became HUAC's head at a time when the U.S. Congress instructed the committee to step up its investigations of foreign nationals thought to be seditious. Under Dies, HUAC evolved into part of the anti-communist crusade pursued not only by Father Coughlin but also by the head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, J. Edgar Hoover. Its anti-communist witch hunt served to stoke the xenophobia of an isolationist America.Even though President Roosevelt himself denounced the Dies committee, a Gallup poll of American public opinion found that 74 percent of its respondents wanted the HUAC investigations to continue.124
Suspicion about communist sympathies among the German emigration escalated with the signing of the Nazi-Soviet pact in August 1939. American intelligence circles became bent thereafter on rooting out so-called Communazis.125 Perceptions of seditious sympathies among the exiles were also inflamed from within the emigration at this time. Leopold Schwarzschild, who had become militantly anti-communist in the wake of the Moscow show trials, launched an attack on Klaus Mann, Oskar Maria Graf, and others associated with the Schutzverband deutscher Schriftsteller im Exil (Association of German Writers in Exile) as pro-Bolshevik.126 Thomas, Klaus, and Erika Mann were among those in the exile community who remained under FBI surveillance in the coming years as the American government continually scrutinized their political leanings. After the outbreak of World War II in September 1939, the agency sought in particular to control the exiles' role in policy debates concerning the new German government to be installed after Hitler's defeat.
War and especially American resistance to being drawn into the conflict also precipitated a change in the critical response to Grosz's current art. A case in point was the display of his Last Battalion. The work appeared in Pittsburgh's Carnegie International Exhibition of 1938 and was shown again in the international of the following year, which opened shortly after Hitler's march into Poland on 1 September 1939. In her lengthy review for the Magazine of Art, Helen Buchhalter warned that the 1939 international might be the last such exhibit.127 Armed aggression abroad threatened the international as a symbol of free exchange among countries. She further insisted that current circumstances called for "a measure of extra-esthetic sentiment" far removed from the depoliticized modernism promoted at MoMA in New York just months before. In acknowledgment of the current crisis, the Carnegie exhibit devoted a special section to émigré artists. It featured twenty-six works by refugees from Germany, Italy, the Soviet Union, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and elsewhere affected by the spreading war.128 Buchhalter observed that pieces presented in the German and Italian national sections exhibited a retreat to the past and romanticism that reflected "possibly a general frame of mind which was itself contributory to the rise of dictatorship."129 By contrast, Grosz's Last Battalion, which appeared in the American gallery, constituted for her "the only staggeringly impressive painting in the show."130
Earlier criticism of Grosz's American works had assailed his retreat into art and condemned the pessimism of Last Battalion and his other allegorical oil paintings as contrary to an affirmative defense of democratic liberty in its ongoing struggle against dictatorship. However, with the outbreak of the European war and within the context of an American isolationism still loath to take sides in the ensuing conflict, his Last Battalion assumed powerful and unrivaled currency for Buchhalter as a generalized condemnation of war. It would endure as testament to the artist's independent vision and as a historical document of unfolding events: "Here true enough is an artist who by the very nature of his work could not survive under a dictator's rule. A passionate outcry against the evils of our time, this may be the one painting in the show to survive as a mirror of those destructive forces when they have played themselves out."131 After U.S. entry into the war, the pessimistic character of Grosz's images would assume yet another and more controversial meaning as they confronted a culture of patriotism that defined the American art world of those years.
Following its assault on Poland, Germany quickly pressed its imperialist campaign into Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxemburg. Grosz noted the spreading war in a letter to Ulrich Becher of October 1939: "Yes, it is probably the eternal and always the same 'battle over pure power,' I think . . . perhaps this whole humanistic era is now coming to an end . . . and Spengler was right about that . . . but we still labor under the old ideas and accustom ourselves with difficulty to the likely ghostliness to follow."132 He also committed his thoughts to another large-scale allegorical oil painting at this time. Titled God of War, the work depicts Mars adorned in plumes and feathers and giving the Sieg heil salute (figure 17). An arm raised behind him echoes Mars's gesture, as do the many extended hands that double as the cockade of his antique warrior's helmet. Another figure, with his neck clamped in a wooden stockade, kneels before the god of war with his ears battened, eyes closed, and mouth locked and nailed shut. His hands, which have been severed from their wrists, nonetheless ritualistically fold together in homage under the sign of a hovering swastika. The young boy crouching in the foreground of the composition resembles one of Grosz's sons, whose quiet activities of reading and drawing the artist had captured in sensitive portrait studies years before. In God of War, the young boy appears oblivious to the martial seductions of the war god behind him. His absorption is not in any youthful reverie, however. Instead, the innocence of the child gives way to the sins of the father as he busies himself with the intricacies of a machine gun and its ammunition belt. In his Last Battalion, of 1938, Grosz had similarly offered up no reprieve from an ageless cycle of human violence. In God of War, the spatial indeterminacy of the composition suggests further that the demarcations between the child's world and that of the god of war, between the private and public realms, and between the home front and the battlefront have also dissolved into a singular image of ceaseless war mongering and brutality.
In June 1940, France fell to Hitler's invading forces. The U.S. State Department responded by ending all immigration from Germany and central Europe with the signing into law of the Alien Registration Act.133 In the coming months, Varian Fry's efforts on behalf of the Emergency Rescue Committee would secure safe passage into exile for some two thousand expellees from Nazi Europe. Klaus and Erika Mann, along with Alfred Barr of the Museum of Modern Art, proved instrumental in expanding the scope of the Rescue Committee's charge beyond political refugees to include artistic and intellectual luminaries. Max Ernst, André Breton, André Masson, and other leading figures of the artistic avant-garde were among those Fry's efforts brought into American exile.134
Mid-1940 also brought another round of controversy within the German exile community. This time, debate was sparked by the announcement that the Allies sought the dismemberment of Germany as part of any postwar settlement. Prince Hubertus zu Löwenstein responded with an essay published in the German-language New Yorker Staatszeitung und Herold in March 1940 that condemned such aims. More startling was his ascription of blame for Germany's militarist aggression to Britain and France and the vengeful terms they set forth against a defeated Germany in 1919 with the Treaty of Versailles.135 Klaus Mann responded immediately with an attack on Löwenstein's essay as "pure, open propaganda against the powers defending the west from Hitler's aggression." He excoriated Löwenstein further for publishing his comments in a newspaper that was, in Mann's words, "three-quarters Nazi." Worse still was the fact that Löwenstein had also said next to nothing about Germany's World War I atrocities, which had precipitated Allied action in the first place.136
Klaus and his sister Erika distanced themselves further from Löwenstein's views with the publication of their second major exile volume, The Other Germany, in mid-1940. Their text argued vociferously against claims that Germany's collective insanity could be blamed on the French, British, or anyone else. The Manns insisted that this insanity was instead deeply rooted within Germany's character and psyche. However, against those who would seek to reduce the country's modern history to its irrationality and Faustian penchant for anti-Enlightenment values, the Manns pleaded for recognition of "the other Germany" that was equally a part of this history.137 Borrowing from the notions of split personality and brotherhood that had served Konrad Heiden and Thomas Mann in their earlier descriptions of Hitler, Klaus and Erika thus described Germany itself as afflicted with a dual identity. The Manns assured their readers that this dualism was soon to be resolved when the "other Germany" responsible for the country's towering contributions to Western civilization would prevail.
This level of circumspection about Germany's history and its responsibility for the world tragedy it now unleashed was altogether missing from Löwenstein's incendiary comments in the New Yorker Staatszeitung und Herold. His statements ultimately precipitated a permanent break between him and the Manns. It also spelled the end of the American Guild for German Cultural Freedom, which formally ceased operations in January 1941.138 Grosz spent an unpleasant evening with Felix Weil, Max Horkheimer, Herbert Marcuse, Theodor Adorno, Hanns Eisler, and Löwenstein shortly after the appearance of Löwenstein's essay. The night was filled, in his words, with "boring" and "ugly" talk no doubt inflected by the Löwenstein controversy.139 Concern over Germany's future evoked by the incident also heightened the stakes involved with Grosz's long-standing negative convictions regarding the German masses. The sharpened and increasingly unsavory political relevance of his views likely also contributed to the strained tenor of the evening.
Isolationism or Internationalism?
Political debate on the post-Hitler status of Germany thus rent the exile community apart following the outbreak of war in Europe. Meanwhile, the American presidential campaign of 1940 foregrounded the question of isolationism versus internationalism as talk of America's role in a future world order began to captivate mainstream political discussion. Firmly in the isolationist camp were pacifists like the socialist political leader Norman Thomas.140 So too were anti-Semites and supporters of Germany like Father Coughlin, aviator Charles Lindbergh, America's ambassador to Britain, Joseph P. Kennedy, media mogul William Randolph Hearst, and Henry Ford.141
Bolstering U.S. intervention in the spreading conflict were Wilsonian ideas that revived again after years of resistance to internationalist visions that had followed America's failure to endorse the League of Nations in 1919.142 Erika and Klaus Mann concluded The Other Germany with acknowledgment of this turn in American political discourse. They cited both H. G. Wells's speculations on "the new world order" to come, as well as Clarence Streit's Union Now and his platform for envisioning a future world at peace. Union Now, which appeared in 1939 and went through fourteen editions by 1941, promoted a global federation based on the American model of legally autonomous democratic states united under one system of defense, finance, and communications. Thomas Mann, Clare Boothe Luce, and Dorothy Thompson were among the many luminaries who not only endorsed Streit's plan but also spoke out publicly to attract greater support for his federation idea.143
Thomas Mann was also a cosignatory of The City of Man, which appeared in 1941.144 The volume was organized under the auspices of Alvin Johnson's New School and compiled by Mann and sixteen other leading American and exile intellectuals. The City of Man argued for the institution of a world government grounded in humanist principles. Mann and the others argued that leadership for this plan necessarily fell to the United States, given the apparent frailty of democracy in Europe following Britain's signing of the Munich accords and the fall of France. The tract also called for an affirmative, even militant, defense of democracy as necessary to the establishment of a new world order of peace and justice. However, the United States' commitment to democracy required more than its willingness to defend it militarily abroad. The City of Man also called for a renewal of democracy's demand for justice at home by eradicating racial prejudice against blacks and Jews in America and curbing the predations of capitalism through socialist modification of the country's economic system. Mann and the volume's other signatories urged that "the American creed must be the American deed" in order for the country to fulfill the historic mission of world leadership that now lay before it.145
Klaus Mann's newly founded journal Decision praised The City of Man for its "idealistic socialism and democratic universalism." However, it also hewed more closely to Wilsonianism by pointing to the contradiction between the universalism symbolized by a "city of man" and the identification of any single nation, including the United States, as the guiding national genius of that universalism. Decision maintained that genuine world democracy must embody the aspirations of all nations and regions committed to the "primacy of morals over economics" and a future of peaceful coexistence.146
Regardless of their differences, The City of Man and Decision shared a plea for self-scrutiny among America's leadership and the public at large as they contemplated the country's future role in the world. This critical circumspection bore little resemblance to the exuberant American nationalist internationalism envisioned by the Republican nominee Wendell Willkie in his bid for the presidency. The former utility executive's campaign against Roosevelt preached the global spread of U.S. capitalism as the best means by which to end conflict, assure prosperity, and secure a world at peace.147 His advocacy of private enterprise earned him the support of leaders in finance and industry and of publishers like Henry Luce.148 Luce's influential "American Century" essay, which appeared in the pages of his widely circulated Life magazine in February 1941, also argued for internationalism under the banner of the United States' laissez-faire capitalism. In a departure from Willkie's more idealistic view of spreading American influence, Luce's more bellicose formulation insisted further on the need to create an international order, not only under American political control, but also bent to American interests. He called on the country "to accept whole-heartedly our duty and our opportunity as the most powerful and vital nation in the world and in consequence to exert upon the world the full impact of our influence, for such purposes as we see fit and by such means as we see fit."149 Growing conflict abroad demanded that America's system of free enterprise should now evolve into a vital international economy and moral world order in which the United States would lead world trade and commerce.
Though Grosz supported Roosevelt in his bid for reelection, he nonetheless noted with approval the words of another Willkie supporter, syndicated columnist Walter Lippmann, who also weighed into the isolationism versus internationalism debate in the summer of 1940.150 Like Luce, Lippmann supported Willkie's internationalist and pro-business stance in 1940, but he eventually rejected Wilsonianism and Willkie's vision of the peaceful spread of capitalism as too idealistic.151 He endorsed instead a postwar alliance based on military force to maintain a world balance of power between democratic and nondemocratic states. His conviction that such force would be necessary to ensure peace ultimately accorded with Roosevelt's own at the end of World War II.152 In 1940, however, Roosevelt refrained from endorsing any internationalist plan. After winning election to his third term as president he delivered his "Four Freedoms" State of the Union address in January 1941. His address announced instead a more modest vision for the United States as a nation committed to working in cooperation with other countries dedicated to the freedom of speech, religion, and the absence of want and fear.
Roosevelt's restraint concerning growing political and corporate demands for an end to American isolationism accorded with the widely held views of an electorate suspicious of foreign involvement and still reeling from the economic dislocations of the Depression. The internationalism versus isolationism debate also led to increasing polarization in the American art world during this period. Since the fall of France and the growing influx of European modernist artists arriving in the United States for safe haven, the increasingly internationalist cast of MoMA and other powerful institutions of art became a matter of growing controversy.
Grosz made note of a provocative essay concerning the current situation in the American art world published by his friend George Biddle in the New Republic in late 1941.153 A leading social realist painter, Biddle's prominence stemmed first and foremost from his tireless efforts that had resulted in the creation of the federal arts projects of the 1930s.154 New Deal art programs reached their highest level of employment in 1936, with more than forty thousand artists on its rolls, including musicians, painters, actors, writers, and photographers.155 By the late 1930s, government support for these projects had all but disappeared, however. Conservative congressional critics took offense at several instances in which left-wing artists had used federal art program commissions to protest problems of social and economic injustice. Others cited the negative examples of Germany, the Soviet Union, and Japan, where government sponsorship was used to repress freedom of expression and subordinate the arts to overt propagandistic manipulation.156 During the Depression, federal arts support had been viewed as an important aspect of economic recovery and the construction of a national culture. With the spread of war and dictatorship, however, such support increasingly came to be seen as antithetical to American values and potentially injurious to freedom of expression.
In his New Republic essay, Biddle responded to these changing realities in the art world by accusing New York dealers and MoMA of engendering a new form of isolationism in contemporary art. This time, isolation represented not the exclusion of foreign influence on American art but rather the exclusion of American artists from an art world grown increasingly beholden to a "star system" of European artists. This system was injurious to the masses of American artists, many of whom were still struggling from the effects of the world economic crisis.157 Biddle thundered further that the New York art world was especially guilty of recycling shop-worn surrealism and abstraction from France over and above other tendencies and to the detriment of a healthy American art. The importance of the French contribution to modern art was undeniable, Biddle claimed. But its penchant for varying modes of abstraction nonetheless rendered it divorced from life and incapable of grappling with urgent matters of the day.158 During this period Biddle found himself among a growing number of figurative and socially engaged artists who saw their works increasingly dismissed. They witnessed from the sidelines as the lineaments of a different American art world-committed to varying modes of abstraction as an emblem of democratic freedom-began to solidify.
Grosz, too, felt the impact of these changes in the American art world as his sales continued to flounder following the poor reception of his Walker Galleries show in 1939. The end of his Guggenheim fellowship and dwindling finances compelled him to resume teaching at the Art Students League in 1940. His letters of this period reveal his growing resentment over the competitive marketing and commercialism of the American art world to which financial need forced him to submit. On the advice of his dealer, Maynard Walker, he devoted more of his time to the production of nudes and landscapes. Such works were better received by critics and proved to be more salable than his tormented allegorical canvases. This reorientation of his efforts bore positive fruit in March 1941, when Paintings of the Nude by George Grosz opened at Walker Galleries. The exhibit enjoyed positive critical response as well as sales.159
Other opportunities also provided Grosz with glimmers of a financial turnaround at this time. Among them was an illustration contract from the journalist and successful Hollywood screenwriter Ben Hecht. Born to Russian Jewish immigrants on New York's Lower East Side in 1894, Hecht began his career as a reporter for the Chicago Daily News. He and Grosz encountered each other for the first time in Berlin while Hecht was serving as a war correspondent for the newspaper in 1918 and 1919. He became part of Grosz's Dada circle at that time, and the two continued thereafter to share a penchant for cynicism and biting satire, as is evident in Grosz's art and Hecht's plays, short stories, and novels.
Hecht's particular brand of iconoclasm became a matter of public controversy in 1931 when Covici-Friede published his novel A Jew in Love. Due to its anti-Semitic portrayal of Jews, the book was banned in Canada and withdrawn from stores in the United States. Hecht, meanwhile, was assailed as a self-hating Jew. His views began to change after the adoption of the Nuremberg Laws in Germany and in the face of growing prejudice in the United States, however. He emerged after 1935 as a leading voice against anti-Semitism at home and the persecution of Jews abroad.160 Grosz's American correspondence mentions Hecht for the first time in 1936, when he went to see a production of Hecht's circus-inspired musical and variety show Jumbo, starring Jimmy Durante at the Hippodrome Theater on Broadway.161
In 1941, Grosz provided eighty-six illustrations for Hecht's collection of pieces reprinted from his column "1001 Afternoons in New York" in the PM 5 Cents New York Daily newspaper.162 The pieces displayed the talent for urban reportage and satiric portraiture that Hecht had developed during his years as a journalist. Some of his vignettes captured the life and times of hucksters on Broadway, bohemians in Greenwich Village, bums and whores in the Bowery, and Nazi acolytes in the German neighborhood of Yorkville. Others spoke to Hecht's increasingly strident stand on "the Jewish question" through their satiric assault on the anti-Semitism of Lindbergh, Kennedy, and Hearst as well as on the prevarications of a world leadership seemingly unwilling to come to the aid of Europe's suffering Jews. Grosz's specific views on Hecht's evolving militancy at this time remain unknown. But the lacerating treatment of "the German savage" evident in "Birth of a Nazi," "These Were Once Conquerors," and other tales in "1001 Afternoons in New York" no doubt struck a responsive chord with Grosz's own love of misanthropic satire and contempt for Nazism.163 As we shall explore in the next chapter, this contempt brought Hecht and Grosz back into contact with each other shortly before the end of the war. Grosz approached his friend at that time about joining him on a visit to war-ravaged Europe in order to document-in Hecht's words and Grosz's images-the monstrosity of Germany's crimes.
Teaching, better sales, and illustration contracts still did not provide Grosz with the kind of financial security he continued to seek, nor did they alleviate his growing anxiety over the competitive and commercialized nature of the art world in New York. In the spring of 1941, he grudgingly bowed to these pressures by signing on with Reeves Lewenthal, founder of the Associated American Artists (AAA). Convinced that "American art ought to be handled like any other American business," Lewenthal shared none of the art world's characteristic qualms concerning art's commodity status.164 Founded in 1934, the AAA hired artists to do inexpensive prints for retail outlets and mail order. Lewenthal also developed contracts with some fifty department stores nationwide for the display and sale of AAA prints. In the late 1930s, he expanded his business by opening a spacious gallery on Fifth Avenue in New York City and later added branches in Chicago and Beverly Hills. His innovative Art for Advertising Department, which linked artists with corporate clients, persisted into the 1940s. By the time Grosz joined Lewenthal in 1941, the AAA styled itself as the "largest commercial art gallery in the world."165 Among its more recognized artists were leading regionalist painters, including Thomas Hart Benton, who made twenty thousand to thirty thousand dollars a year through AAA sales between the mid-1930s and late 1940s. John Steuart Curry, who joined Lewenthal's enterprise in 1941, received four thousand dollars in commissions in the first three weeks.166 Under the terms of his contract, the AAA received a commission of 33<fr>1/3</fr> percent on all of Grosz's sales through the gallery.167
Lewenthal's first exhibit of Grosz's drawings and watercolors took place in October and November 1941 and was timed to coincide with the opening of a traveling retrospective of Grosz's paintings, drawings, and prints at the Museum of Modern Art. The MoMA display consisted of some sixty works spanning Grosz's production from 1914 to the present. By presenting audiences with an overview of Grosz's Weimar and American works, the pairing of these two exhibits threw into high relief the divided reception that had dogged Grosz's career since his arrival in the United States in 1933. In his review of the AAA and MoMA shows, the New York Times critic Edward Alden Jewell rehearsed his favorable response to Grosz's shift from the social content characteristic of his early work to his current concern with technical proficiency. Particularly impressive to Jewell in the current exhibits was the distinctive blur technique evident in Grosz's watercolors devoted to landscape themes and depictions of the nude.168
Grosz's friends and admirers on the left reached different conclusions about the significance of the AAA and MoMA displays, however. Felix Weil visited both and wrote that he had come away saddened not only by the loss of the early Grosz but also by the "American conformist" into which he had evidently transformed.169 Grosz sent an embittered reply in which he accused Weil of a "banal social democratic and somewhat tired hostility to art" that confused art with propaganda.170 For his part, he was now devoted to emulating the old masters and no longer suited to the task of illustrating "statistics," as Weil and others on the left demanded of him.
Milton Brown echoed Weil's sentiments in his essay "Death of an Artist," published in Parnassus magazine in May 1941. He bemoaned Grosz's retreat into the studio and his current concentration on technique: "Whereas one may rail against the failure of a mediocre talent, one can only weep at the demise of a genius. To see the exhibition of George Grosz at the Walker Galleries is to witness the last act in the murder of one of the finest talents of our time. The pity is that it is self-murder. The shame is that it is done amidst cheers." For Brown, Grosz's earlier work had exhibited a correspondence between vanguard form and critical content. Now only form remained. Without content, he maintained, Grosz's work could only devolve into a pointless solipsism.171
In December 1941, Fortune magazine featured Grosz and his painting Last Battalion in an essay titled "The Great Flight of Culture: Twelve Artists in U.S. Exile."172 In their criticisms of Grosz's recent art, Weil and Brown had accused him of assimilating too fully by abandoning his socially critical work of the Weimar years and willfully surrendering to the commercial imperatives of his new American environs. Fortune, on the other hand, celebrated Grosz's otherness as an exile and his role as part of a revered European high cultural tradition that circumstances had now driven to American shores. Featured along with him in the exposé were Piet Mondrian, Fernand Léger, Amédée Ozenfant, Marc Chagall, André Masson, Yves Tanguy, Max Ernst, Salvador Dalí, Eugene Berman, Pavel Tchelitchew, and Kurt Seligmann. Their exodus from Europe had conferred on the United States "opportunities and responsibilities of custodianship for a civilization." Fortune observed that it also gave America the chance to overcome its provincialism through study and appreciation of the exiles' high-cultural example. The journal concluded that through such means, Grosz and other exponents of this historic artistic migration would help America to move beyond its uncultured preference for Disney cartoons, film, and other forms of low-brow mass entertainment and to assume its destiny of world cultural leadership.
Largely unintelligible to most American critics remained Grosz's troubled portraits and apocalyptic war paintings. As we have seen, these works were rooted in a German past that current circumstances would not allow him to leave behind. Through his investigations of the Northern Renaissance tradition, Grosz attempted to confront the horror of the discredited German culture his life and art had come to represent. At the same time, the traumatic character of his portraits and war paintings addressed the fundaments of a Western humanist tradition that also appeared mortally imperiled by atrocity and war. In this regard, his work shared in painted form a prefigurative consciousness indulged by Mann and others in the exile community as they came to view Germany's fate as that of Western civilization itself during this period.
As we have also encountered, however, Grosz's role in the making of a German exile culture in these years before U.S. entry into the war was no less fraught than his attempt to place his career on a firm footing in the American art world. Leading figures in the emigration worked to establish a cohesive and positive image for the exile community in their bid to salvage a "better" Germany and to press their demand for American assistance in combating the spread of dictatorship and war in Europe. But while Mann and others in the emigration engaged Germany's troubled history in their effort to imagine a redemptive future for the country and its culture, Grosz's cynicism looked back on the German past and forward to the country's ultimate fate with a jaundiced eye that frequently infuriated his exiled compatriots. His misanthropic outbursts and the apocalyptic content of his recent art rendered him and his work ill-suited to the task of forwarding the exile community's aim of anticipating Germany's positive role in the world order to come after Hitler's defeat. As the coming years were to demonstrate, Grosz's life and art also proved ill suited to U.S. visions of that same world order as the "American Century" began to captivate the nation's political culture during World War II.