In Focus

George Grosz's Impression of Dallas Series

On May 13, 1952, the celebrated artist George Grosz arrived in Dallas, Texas, finally reaching the landscape of his childhood dreams. Grosz's invitation to Dallas originated from Leon Harris, Jr., the young vice president of a Dallas department store, A. Harris & Company, who conceived the rather improbable idea of offering Grosz a major commission as a component of the store's 65th anniversary celebrations. Grosz spent four days in May 1952 discovering the landscape and people of Dallas before returning to his studio in Huntington, New York, where he spent the next five months creating a series of four oil paintings and seventeen watercolors recording his observations. He titled this series Impressions of Dallas.

The Impressions of Dallas series was intended to serve a multitude of purposes. It responded to the immediate public relations needs of A. Harris & Company but was also meant as a gift to the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts—the "old masters of tomorrow," in Harris's phrase—and an enduring artistic testimonial to the people and city of Dallas. Above all, it was intended to reflect a particular image of Dallas in the postwar period: prosperous and progressive, grounded in local tradition yet urbane. The series was meant to document Dallas coming into its own at mid-century and secure in its modernity.

The scale of the commission reflects Harris's ambitions for his business: the ambition not only to increase the market reach of A. Harris & Company but also to polish its luster as a sophisticated purveyor of fashion. The Impressions of Dallas commission was part of a much broader public relations campaign that bound the store and its Texan clientele together with cultural references points far beyond the confines of Dallas. Grosz's paintings were, however, the most surprising part of Harris's strategy.

At the time of Harris's invitation, Grosz was a famous painter, but not a fashionable one. He was an American artist who remained indelibly associated with Germany, where he had been born and had spent the first half of his career. He was too unconventional to be commercially successful, but too old-fashioned to be of interest to the avant-garde. He was known as one of the most unsparing satirists of the 20th century, yet he was hired for a corporate commission that took the form of civic boosterism.

Adapted from

Heather MacDonald, Flower of the Prairie: George Grosz in Dallas (Dallas: Dallas Museum of Art, 2012),10-11 & 72.