George Grosz’s oil on canvas painting Eclipse of the Sun wasn’t much cared for when he painted it in 1926. It wasn’t until 1968 when it was discovered and sold to the Heckscher Museum of Art in Huntington for $15,000 that it really gained popularity. The painting is obviously extremely political and really focuses on greed, war, power, corruption and social inequality in Germany at the time. The Heckscher Museum recently almost sold it for 19 million dollars. How’s that for a gain in popularity? The museum has changed their mind on selling the painting though, and they consider the painting as, “the most famous and important painting on Long Island.”( Genocchio)
Art can be a hard thing to define, as it can be all sorts of things. Almost anything could really be considered an art in some peoples’ minds. Art can be visual or auditory and it can even be process or a product of skills. One thing almost anyone will agree with is that art is man-made and is a creative expression of ideas. A painting like George Grosz’s Eclipse of the Sun, would most likely be defined as fine art. Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary has two definitions for fine art. The first being, “art (as painting, sculpture, or music) concerned primarily with the creation of beautiful objects…” and the second is, “an activity requiring a fine skill.” A painting like this most certainly requires fine skill, and it really is a beautiful painting in its own way.
George Grosz was born in Berlin and was a leading member of the Dada group loacted there. He moved to New York City in 1933 to avoid persecution in Germany, and to teach at the Art Students League. In 1947 he settled in Huntington, and then he moved back to Germany in 1959 where he died very shortly after. When he came to the United States he had brought this now famous painting with him, but no one really cared for it at the time. The painting was eventually discovered, years after he had already died, rolled up in the garage of a house painter who had done work for Grosz. The museum then bought it, and it still currently resides at the Heckscher Museum.
There is so much going on in the painting that it is hard to even know where to begin, but I’ll start with the title of the painting. In the upper left hand corner of the painting there is a dark red dollar sign eclipsing the sun. This is almost certainly symbolizing money and greed. The sun being the symbol of life and growth, and being completely eclipsed by a dollar symbol is quite powerful in itself.
At the top middle of the painting is what looks to be a leader, which through a bit of research I have discovered that the man represented here is the President of the German Reich of the time, Paul von Hindenburg. Next to him is a wealthy industrialist, who is whispering to Hindenburg. Both of them are represented as very large and powerful, and with their baring teeth, they look quite evil. The men appear to be dictating to a group of headless politicians seated around a table. This seems to be showing that money and greed is fueling all of their decisions and they are blind followers of the leaders.
On the table is a donkey, with covers over its eyes, which could be symbolizing the common person blindly following their leaders. Also on the table is a bloody sword, which is likely saying that the President and wealthy industrialist have brainwashed the politicians to do whatever they please, as if they had cut off their heads. In the bottom right corner of the painting is what appears to be a prison cell with someone, possibly a child, trapped behind it. The common people have been broken down so much that they are trapped and can’t do anything to get out of a life of being poor, while the rich continue to get richer.
I have come to many of these conclusions of this painting through a little bit of research, but I think without even knowing anything about it, you can really get the general idea of what the artist is saying. With research it becomes even more interesting to understand exactly who he was talking about and why. George Grosz was a prominent member of the Dada art movement in Berlin at the time. The Dada group in Berlin was not as much anti-war as Dada groups in other places. Their art and their activities were very political and social, which is apparent in this painting. Many of their works involved satire and propaganda. In an art review for the New York Times, Benjamin Genocchio states, “It is basically a biting satire of Weimar-period German political and business leaders, in particular the corruption of the avaricious industrialist and president of the German Reich, Paul von Hindenburg.” (Genocchio)
The reason I chose this painting is because from the moment I glanced at it, I realized that there was just so much to it. It wasn’t something too crazy that anyone who looked at it would come up with a wildly different opinion about what it meant. If you just had a little bit of history on it, you realize exactly what the artist is saying, and he has an obvious clear message for the viewer with plenty of symbolism included. Corruption, social inequality, greed, power, war and corruption are very obvious factors in this painting and in my opinion it is a great historical piece of artwork. I mean, it was almost sold to a buyer for 19 million dollars. That’s more money than I can even comprehend.
“fine art.” Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2010.Merriam-Webster Online. 05 May 2010
Genocchio, Benjamin. “ART REVIEW; Letting the ‘Sun’ Shine.” New York Times (19 February 2006) 1 May 2010. .