The people curse those who hold back grain. (Proverbs 11:26 NRSV)
Georg Scholz’s Industrialised Peasants is one of the most caustic images of the German Weimar Republic. It was first shown in post-war Berlin: at the First International Dada Fair of 1920. Scholz made this work using paint with collage and photographic fragments. The montage technique is characteristic of the Dadaists’ means of encouraging a more critically engaged way of seeing.
These ‘industrialized peasants’ are a farming family. They live surrounded by the trappings of patriotism and bourgeois respectability. A bust of the abdicated Kaiser is visible near a photograph of, perhaps, a son, in military uniform. The father dominates the group, stiffly clutching a gilt-edged hymnbook with a prominent cross, while two paper money fragments show what is really on his mind. A conservative Christian newspaper can be glimpsed on the table. A mother, or grandmother, stares vacantly, clutching a fat piglet to her own porcine body. The child at the table is Scholz’s most grotesque creation, his head hollow and his expression sadistic as he tortures a toad he traps with bony fingers.
Outside is a large modern threshing machine, ready for a big harvest. A fat sack of grain with a marked weight by it stands in the corner, suggesting a hoard and a concern with weights and measures, as doubtful as the evident morality of this crooked family. They resemble the cruel and the godless in Proverbs 11: people who hoard riches and deal in ‘false balances’ (v.1).
Over the course of the war of 1914–18, black market prices for various grains rose from the ‘official’ pre-war price by 2,000–3,000% (Blum 2013: 1070). By 1920, people were suffering the long-term effects of rationing, shortages, and malnutrition.
Scholz related this scathing artwork to his own experience. He claimed that, as a wounded veteran in 1919, he once asked some wealthy farmers for some food to feed his family, but was offered only their compost heap (Doherty 2006: 92). The uncompromising details of Industriebauern express the artist’s own verdict on the wicked’s withholding of ‘what is due’ (Proverbs 11:24).
Blum, Matthias. 2013. ‘War, Food rationing, and Socioeconomic Inequality in Germany During the First World War’, The Economic History Review, 66.4: 1063–83
Doherty, Brigid. 2006. ‘Berlin’, in Dada, ed. by Leah Dickerman (Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art), pp. 87–153
11A false balance is an abomination to the Lord,
but a just weight is his delight.
2When pride comes, then comes disgrace;
but with the humble is wisdom.
3The integrity of the upright guides them,
but the crookedness of the treacherous destroys them.
4Riches do not profit in the day of wrath,
but righteousness delivers from death.
5The righteousness of the blameless keeps his way straight,
but the wicked falls by his own wickedness.
6The righteousness of the upright delivers them,
but the treacherous are taken captive by their lust.
7When the wicked dies, his hope perishes,
and the expectation of the godless comes to nought.
8The righteous is delivered from trouble,
and the wicked gets into it instead.
9With his mouth the godless man would destroy his neighbor,
but by knowledge the righteous are delivered.
10When it goes well with the righteous, the city rejoices;
and when the wicked perish there are shouts of gladness.
11By the blessing of the upright a city is exalted,
but it is overthrown by the mouth of the wicked.
12He who belittles his neighbor lacks sense,
but a man of understanding remains silent.
13He who goes about as a talebearer reveals secrets,
but he who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a thing hidden.
14Where there is no guidance, a people falls;
but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.
15He who gives surety for a stranger will smart for it,
but he who hates suretyship is secure.
16A gracious woman gets honor,
and violent men get riches.
17A man who is kind benefits himself,
but a cruel man hurts himself.
18A wicked man earns deceptive wages,
but one who sows righteousness gets a sure reward.
19He who is steadfast in righteousness will live,
but he who pursues evil will die.
20Men of perverse mind are an abomination to the Lord,
but those of blameless ways are his delight.
21Be assured, an evil man will not go unpunished,
but those who are righteous will be delivered.
22Like a gold ring in a swine’s snout
is a beautiful woman without discretion.
23The desire of the righteous ends only in good;
the expectation of the wicked in wrath.
24One man gives freely, yet grows all the richer;
another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want.
25A liberal man will be enriched,
and one who waters will himself be watered.
26The people curse him who holds back grain,
but a blessing is on the head of him who sells it.
27He who diligently seeks good seeks favor,
but evil comes to him who searches for it.
28He who trusts in his riches will wither,
but the righteous will flourish like a green leaf.
29He who troubles his household will inherit wind,
and the fool will be servant to the wise.
30The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life,
but lawlessness takes away lives.
31If the righteous is requited on earth,
how much more the wicked and the sinner!