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Glitter and Doom: German Portraits from the 1920s

Rewald, Sabine, with essays by Ian Buruma and Matthias Eberle (2006)

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Glitter and Doom: German Portraits from the 1920s

Although often romanticized as the backdrop for erotic cabaret shows and sexual licentiousness, German cities of the 1920s were actually in the throes of rampant unemployment, hyperinflation, and social panic. After the initial patriotic fervor for—followed by the crippling devastation of—World War I, a group of artists known as the Verists questioned their own involvement in the atrocities and focused on the country's quickly changing social landscape and uncertain political future.

Forgoing new modes of abstraction, the artists found worthy subjects in urban denizens of all walks of life, from the war-wounded to the art dealer. With a stark rejection of idealization, the Verists' portraits captured the stark existence of a populace through an incisive and often satiric form of realism. Unlike the conservative painting styles popular at the time, the Verists' psychological portraits do not attempt to reproduce likenesses. Rather, with savage distortions of the face and the figure, the artist turns the sitter into an exaggerated type reflecting the extremes of a turbulent era: wealth and poverty, glamour and violence, decadence and banality