Wolfgang Beltracchi, 2018
Artistic voice: George Grosz, 1931, Berlin
Oil on canvas, 80.5 x 67.5 cm

The Bavarian King Max II sought to ensure that his realm kept pace with the times with his consistent pursuit of modernisation by promoting Bavaria’s latest technological, scientific and artistic advances. His plans to drive forward the industrialisation of Bavaria included a large exhibition in Munich in 1854. The architect August von Voit was commissioned to construct the gigantic exhibition building. Based on London’s Crystal Palace, it was built as an iron and glass construction in the Botanical Garden. It was a wise royal decision to retain the building after the end of the exhibition as a new cultural centre for the city, further strengthening the reputation of the Bavarian state capital as an artistic metropolis. On the night of 6th June 1931, the Glass Palace caught fire, destroying thousands of important works of art. Five years later, the same fate befell the building in London that had provided the design inspiration for its Bavarian cousin, negating some of the rumours of arson at the time. It was well known that these hangar-type constructions were under significant risk from fire. The people of Munich were helpless in the face of this massively destructive event, although at that time they could not have known that the Nazi dictatorship which arose just two years later would continue this act of cultural destruction via political means for twelve terrible years of exclusion and confinement, expulsion and genocide, terror and war.

Professor Julian Nida-Rümelin, former Federal State Minister, Ludwig Maximilian University, Munich

In June 1931, the Munich Glass Palace containing 3,000 paintings and a special exhibition of masterpieces from German Romanticism was burned to the ground. The cause of the fire was never determined. Instead of going ahead with the planned reconstruction, Hitler ordered the Haus der Kunst to be built in 1933. George Grosz was famed in the Weimar Republic for his social critiques via drawings and caricatures. In the Twenties, as a Communist, he vehemently opposed the art establishment as supporting the state and providing objects simply for speculative investment. Along with his friend and publisher Wieland Herzfelde, he poses as a possible arsonist. In the Thirties, however, he began to fear the masses, whom he had until then wanted to liberate. In 1933, he emigrated to the USA.