Kurt Schwitters

(1887 - 1948)
Kurt Schwitters Mz 129 rot oben [Mz 129 Red on top] 1920 © DACS 2017.


Born and based for most of his life in Hanover, Schwitters began composing collages and assemblages from junk and everyday ephemera in 1919. He called these works 'Merz', a term derived from the cut-up letterhead of a bank used in one of his collages. Schwitters later used 'Merz' to refer to all his artistic activities, including painting, sculpture, typography and installation. He transformed the interior of much of his house in Hanover into a fantastic work of art - the so-called 'Merz building'. He is often seen as a Dadaist, but while Dada defined itself as anti-art, Schwitters asserted that his work was art. The artist fled Nazi Germany in 1937, living first in Norway before settling in England in 1940.

Glossary terms

  • Art in which there is no attempt to represent anything existing in the world, particularly used of the 20th century onwards. ‘Abstraction’ refers to the process of making images that may in part derive from the visible world but which are reduced to basic formal elements.

  • Or Entartete Kunst. Term coined in the 1930s by the Nazis in Germany to ridicule modern art that didn't fit with Hitler's vision. Exhibitions of such works confiscated from German museums were staged and German artists branded with the term were banned from exhibiting their work.