creator of merz


“My name is Kurt Schwitters…I am an artist and I nail my pictures together . . . ”


Born in Hanover in 1887, Kurt Schwitters studied art at Dresden, but it was not until the Dada movement of 1916 that he finally liberated himself from conventional art. Schwitters took from Dada the freedom to use what materials he wanted to in his pictorial compositions. He used bits of rubbish, bits society throws away, and by using litter from the gutter he challenged our value systems. He was a man with extraordinary imagination. It could be said that after his death, Merz inspired the Pop Art movement of the 1950s/1960s.

“I know for sure that a great day will come for myself and for other important individuals of the abstract movement when we shall influence a whole generation, only I fear that I will personally not live to see the day.”

One of the most important works of art Schwitters created was a sculpture which he called his Merzbau. The sculpture started with ‘The Cathedral of Erotic Misery’ which was a phallic column, and over time, he constantly evolved and added other new columns to the assemblage. It was unfinished because it was unfinishable; it was environmental and engulfing in scope, but its significance was that it marked the birth of installation or conceptual art that we see today. The Hanover Merzbau was destroyed by bombs in 1943.

Not only did Schwitters paint his Merz collages, and work on the sculpture, but he also wrote and performed his abstract poems, sounds without words. These became popular and Schwitters became quite a cabaret artist.

A mention should be made of the interest Schwitters always had in typography, and this enthusiasm led to him setting up his own advertising agency which proved financially successful.

Hitler came to power in 1933 and many artists (whether or not they were Jewish) fled Germany. In 1937 for a variety of compelling reasons, Schwitters left Hanover for Norway, never to return to his home again. The Norwegian experience was mixed, but while there he started his second Merzbau. In 1940, Schwitters and his son fled to Britain where they were both interned on the Isle of Man. From 1941 to 1945, Schwitters lived in London, later moving to Ambleside after the war. He remained there until his death in poverty and obscurity in 1948.

Schwitters never received the recognition in Britain he had enjoyed in Europe, and his art did not sell. However, in 1947 he was fortunate enough to start his third Merzbau in a barn in Elterwater. Regrettably only a fragment was completed before his death, and this small monument to his genius can now be seen in the Hatton Gallery, Newcastle.

The Armitt has an extensive collection of books, biographies, catalogues, and newspaper cuttings on the life of Kurt Schwitters, and this will provide students of the artist with a most valuable resource.

‘We keep right on playing until death comes for us. I have so little time.” – Kurt Schwitters 

To discover more on Kurt Schwitters see these resources:

The Armitt’s collections and library are available for research and study. Please contact us for further information, or to book a research session on: or call 015394 31212.

Kurt Schwitters

Dr Johnston

Kurt Schwitters

Bowl of Flowers 1946

Kurt Schwitters

Bridge House

Kurt Schwitters

Old Mill Ambleside

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