Grosz was born as Georg Ehrenfried Groß in Berlin, Germany. He grew up in the Pomeranian town of Stolp (Słupsk), where his mother became the keeper of the local Hussars Officers’ mess after his father died in 1901.
Grosz developed his skills by drawing meticulous copies of the drinking scenes of Eduard von Grützner, and by drawing imaginary battle scenes.
From 1909–1911, he studied at the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts and subsequently at the Berlin College of Arts and Crafts under Emil Orlik.
In 1916 he changed the spelling of his name to George Grosz as a protest against German nationalism and out of a romantic enthusiasm for America that originated in his early reading of the books of James Fenimore Cooper, Bret Harte and Karl May, and which he retained for the rest of his life.
Grosz was arrested during the Spartakus uprising in January 1919, but escaped using fake identification documents; he joined the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) in the same year.
In 1921 Grosz was accused of insulting the army, which resulted in a 300 German Mark fine and the destruction of the collection “Gott mit uns” (“God with us”), a satire on German society. Grosz left the KPD in 1922 after having spent five months in Russia and meeting Lenin and Trotsky, because of his antagonism to any form of dictatorial authority.
Bitterly anti-Nazi, Grosz left Germany shortly before Hitler came to power. In June 1932, he accepted an invitation to teach the summer semester at the Art Students League of New York. In 1933 he and his family emigrated to America. Grosz became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1938. He taught at the Art Students League intermittently until 1955.
In America, Grosz determined to make a clean break with his past and changed his style and subject matter.
In his drawings, usually in pen and ink which he sometimes developed further with watercolour, Grosz did much to create the image most have of Berlin and the Weimar Republic in the 1920s. Corpulent businessmen, wounded soldiers, prostitutes, sex crimes and orgies were his great subjects. His draftsmanship was excellent although the works for which he is best known to adopt a deliberately crude form of caricature.
After his emigration to the USA in 1933, Grosz “sharply rejected [his] previous work, and caricature in general.” In place of his earlier corrosive vision of the city, he now painted conventional nudes and many landscape watercolours. More acerbic works, such as Cain, or Hitler in Hell (1944), were the exception.
From 1947 to 1959, George Grosz lived in Huntington, New York where he taught painting at the Huntington Township Art League, in relative penury.