Industrialised Peasants (Industriebauern) by Georg Scholz

Georg Scholz

Industrialised Peasants (Industriebauern), 1920, Painting and collage on plywood, 98 x 70 cm, Von der Heydt Museum, Wuppertal, Photo: akg-images / Erich Lessing

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Those Who Have

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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).

 

References

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

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