By Timothy George
September 5, 2016
Hans Friedrich Grohs (1892-1981) was an accomplished artist who belonged to the second generation of German Expressionist painters. His life’s work, which survives in several thousand pieces of art, is a remarkable testimony to creativity, courage, and faith in an apocalyptic world of violence, death, and moral collapse. He was born four years after Kaiser Wilhelm II ascended the German imperial throne; he died nearly a century later, in the same decade that witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany. He was drafted as a soldier in both world wars and experienced firsthand the Nazi reign of terror in between. Few artists have lived so fully, or recorded so faithfully, such a vast sweep of human history.
During World War I, Grohs was stationed near Bruges, Belgium, not far from enemy lines, where Corporal Adolf Hitler was running back and forth delivering messages for the army. During this time, Grohs studied the Flemish masters. Returning to Germany, he became a member of the influential art and design school organized by Walter Gropius and known as the Bauhaus. Although he later broke with this tradition in order to develop his own distinctive artistic voice, Grohs was shaped by the thought and work of contemporary Expressionist masters such as Emil Nolde and Edvard Munch.
The decade of the twenties was a difficult time of personal testing for Hans Grohs. Married to Elisabeth Treskow in 1922, Grohs was overcome with grief when she died two years later, just nine days after giving birth to their first child. Out of this time of great sadness and loss came several works of memento mori: a memorial sculpture of lament for Elli, as Grohs called his wife, and two remarkable woodcut series, The Elli Dance of Death and The ABC of Death. In these woodcuts, bereavement is portrayed as the pathway of benediction, interpreted in the light of Christian consolation. For example, the letter “K” (das Kreuz) shows a skeletal Christ bearing his cross to Calvary while carrying another cadaverous figure on his back. Read the rest at First Things.
“God Sowing the Stars,” from Genesis Window, by Hans Grohs, 1927—appears with permission of the Frauken Grohs Collinson-Grohs Collection Trust.