“Flower of the Prairie: George Grosz in Dallas”
Grosz, was an expatriate German artist, known for satirical works which depicted the rise of fascism in his home country. Grosz left Berlin in 1933 and eventually settled in New York.
The exhibition at the Dallas Museum of Art presents a series of twenty paintings from 1952 which capture Dallas as the city was expanding with more skyscrapers, and includes images of street scenes, theatre, cattle, an oil refinery, etc,
Seventeen of the works in the exhibition are watercolors on paper.
The occasion for the production of this series was the invitation by Leon Harris, Jr. the young vice president of the Harris and Company Department Store. Harris commissioned Grosz to create a series of paintings depicting the landscape, economy and society of Dallas on the occasion of the store’s 65th anniversary celebration.
Grosz visited Dallas for five days in May, 1952, 60 years ago this year. However, most of the works in the series were produced after he returned to his studio in Huntington, New York over a period of five months.
The series, entitled “Impressions of Dallas” was exhibited at the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts (the predecessor of DMA) in 1952 and later in New York City in 1954.The curator for the current exhibit, Heather McDonald, indicated that the series captures a moment in the city’s history that vanished within a decade as the city grew. The exhibition indicated that the city expanded from 50 square miles at the end of World War II to 198 square miles in 1955.
Maxwell I. Anderson, the Director of the Dallas Museum, spoke about Grosz’s interest in the American West. “He was struck, of course, by the skyscrapers and all the muscularity and growth of our infrastructure downtown and he was also fascinated by the cowboy legend.”
Grosz’s watercolor “Dallas Broadway” portrays a very colorful street scene which seems crammed with dozens of theaters and figures. The exhibition comments that by the 1970’s most of those theaters, except one, had been destroyed because of the competition of various entertainment venues in the suburbs.
There are three works which reveal some of the sources of income in the city. There is one showing cattle, another focusing on an oil refinery while a third shows people picking cotton.
The cowboy topic was revealed as well in a watercolor entitled “Refreshments on the Way.” In this work we see a man wearing a cowboy hat outside of a restaurant famous for a pork sandwich.
In another watercolor, “In Front of the Hotel,” a scene is depicted in front of The Adolphus, a downtown historical hotel where Grosz stayed while in Dallas working on this project.
By the early 1960’s most of the works in the “Impressions of Dallas” series had been acquired by the Dallas Museum of Art or Southern Methodist University.
The Dallas Museum of Art notes that the “exhibition also examines the context for the Impressions of Dallas series with twelve of Groszs works made earlier in his career, including graphic work and watercolors made in Berlin in the 1920s and early 1930s, and paintings and watercolors made in New York during the late 1930s and 1940s.”
One work from 1935, entitled “Nazi Interrogation” is a watercolor over ink which presents a particularly brutal scene.
The exhibition is accompanied by the Dallas Museum of Art’s first e-catalogue, an electronic publication describing the history of Groszs Dallas paintings.
The catalogue features an essay by exhibition curator Heather MacDonald and additional contributions by Andrew Sears describing Groszs career in the postwar years, relating the history of the “Impressions of Dallas” commission, and offering a rich portrait of Dallas in the early 1950s.
The catalogue reproduces the Impressions of Dallas series in its entirety for the first time, and illustrates many other paintings, watercolors, drawings, and prints by Grosz, as well as many historic photographs of Dallas.
Leon Harris Jr. died in 2000 at age 74. A. Harris & Company merged with rival Sanger Brothers in 1961 to form Sanger-Harris, which was absorbed by Foleys in the mid-1980s. That chain was later taken over by Macys.
Grosz died in 1959 at the age of 65.
“Flower of the Prairie: George Grosz in Dallas:” Exhibition runs May 20 through Aug. 19 at the Dallas Museum of Art.
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