Kurt Schwitters, 1887-1948

1887Born in Rumannstrasse in Hannover on 20 June.
1894Starts school.
1898Kurt Schwitters' parents, Eduard and Henriette Schwitters, retire from their business.
1901First epileptic seizure. The family moves to Waldhausenstrasse 5, Hannover. 
1908Matriculation. Engagement to his second cousin, Helma Fischer (1890-1944). 
1908-9Student at the School of Applied Art, Hanover.
1909-15Student at the Royal Academy of Art, Dresden.
1910First writings on abstract art.
1911First exhibits in the Kunstverein Hannover.
1915Marries Helma Fischer on 5 October. 
1916Death of son Gerd, at the age of a week.
1917Military service. Works as a draughtsman in Hannover. First exhibition with the Kestner Society in Hannover: experiments with Expressionist and abstract pictures. 
1918Studies architecture in Hannover. First exhibition in Berlin, at Herwarth Walden’s Galerie der Sturm. Birth of son Ernst. Begins to experiment with collage at the end of the year.
1919First assemblages, which he calls Merz pictures after one of his earliest assemblages. In May, contacts members of Zurich Dada; correspondence with Tristan Tzara. Contact with Berlin Dada, including Richard Huelsenbeck, Raoul Hausmann and Hannah Höch. From May, collaborates with Huelsenbeck, who visits him at the end of the year. First Merz pictures exhibited at Sturm in summer. His poem An Anna Blume is published.
1920An Anna Blume creates a scandal. Merz pictures are exhibited at the Société Anonyme in New York. Undertakes public recitals of his literary works for the next decade.
1921Recitals with Raoul Hausmann in Prague.
1922Attends Dada - Constructivist meeting in Weimar. 
1923The 'Dada Holland' campaign with Theo and Nelly van Doesburg. Starts publication of Merz journal, which appears at irregular intervals until 1932. Intensifies contacts with the Bauhaus in Weimar. Works on a studio column that comes to be known as Die Kathedrale des erotischen Elends [Cathedral of Erotic Misery].
1924Merz 8/9 'Nasci' published in conjunction with El Lissitsky. Founds the Merz Werbe advertising agency.
1925First recording of the Scherzo from the Ursonate, a forty-minute sound poem.
1926First visit of his American patron Katherine Dreier. Explores the medium of photography.
1927Founder member of abstrakten hannover and ring neuer werbegestalter. Visits Doesburgs and Arps in Paris. Moves his studio to a back room in his parents’ apartment and starts intensive work on his studio columns.  
1928Visits Italy. Works on revues and a multi-media opera, Der Zusammenstoss [The Collision]. 
1929First visit to Norway. Typography contracts for Karlsruhe and for Hannover City Council. Joins the French 'cercle et carré', an association of abstract artists. Katherine Dreier and Marcel Duchamp visit him in Hannover.
1930Member of the international PEN club
1931Joins 'abstraction-création', the successor to 'cercle et carré'. Death of his father Eduard Schwitters and Theo van Doesburg.
1932Tour of the Mediterranean. The Ursonate is published as final number of the Merz magazine. Rents a hut on the Norwegian island of Hjertoya.
1933The Cathedral of Erotic Misery is combined with two or three other studio columns and integrated into a sculptural environment that Schwitters names the Merzbau. Defamation by the Nazis; for the next five years, his work is shown in exhibitions of Entartete Kunst.
1934Ceases all typographical work.
1935Six-month visit to Norway.
1936-7Exhibits at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
1937Emigrates to Norway on Jan 2 to join his son Ernst in Oslo. After his departure, Katherine Dreier visits his home for the last time. His pictures are shown at the Entartete Kunst exhibition in Munich in July. Starts on a new Merzbau in Oslo, the Haus am Bakken.
1938Merz pictures exhibited in London.
1939Sees his wife and mother for the last time. Increasing isolation after the outbreak of war.
1940Flees from the invading Nazi troops. Escapes from Norway on an icebreaker and is interned on his arrival in Britain in June. In August he is sent to Hutchinson Internment Camp, Isle of Man.
1941Released from internment in November. Moves to Bayswater, London, where he first meets Edith Thomas (Wantee). 
1942Moves to Barnes. Visits the Lake District with Wantee.
1943Destruction of the Merzbau in Hanover in an Allied bombing raid.
1944Suffers stroke. Exhibits in Modern Art Gallery in London. His wife Helma dies of cancer in Hanover. 
1945Moves to Ambleside in the Lake District. His mother Henriette dies in Hanover. He suffers a brain haemorrhage.
1946Plans to restore the Merzbau in Hannover or Oslo. Spends nearly three months in bed with a broken leg. Works on the magazine PIN with Raoul Hausmann.
1947In a critical state of health, he undertakes public recitals in London and starts a third Merzbau in Elterwater, financed by a Pittsburgh businessman who forwards the money to him through MoMA.
1948Dies 8 Jan in Kendal. Buried in Ambleside.
1970His remains are exhumed and removed to Hanover.
A detailed biographical table can be found on the Sprengel Museum’s website.

Selected Bibliography

BOOK FIND SERVICE For help sourcing a publication, visit
High Barn Book Find.
Schwitters, Kurt, Das literarische Werk, ed. Friedhelm Lach, 5 vols., I: Lyrik, II: Prosa 1918-1930, III: Prosa 1931-1948; IV: Schauspiele und Szenen; V: Manifeste und kritische Prosa. Cologne, 1973-1981/Munich 1985 (paperback).

Schwitters, Kurt, Wir spielen, bis uns der Tod abholt. Briefe aus fünf Jahrzehnten. Edited by Ernst Nündel. Frankfurt a. M, Vienna and Berlin, 1974/1985 (paperback).

Rothenberg, Jerome, and Pierre Joris (eds.), Poems Performances Pieces Proses Plays Poetics. Philadelphia, 1993/Cambridge (Massachusetts) 2002.

Lucky Hans and Other Merz Fairy Tales, ed. and trans. Jack Zipes. Princeton, 2009.

Three Stories by Kurt Schwitters, ed. Jasia Reichardt, Tate Publishing, London 2010.
(reviewed in KSUK Newsletter 2)

Alban Davis, Gwyneth, "Schwitters in Langdale," parts 1 and 2, Quarto, Abbot Hall Art Gallery, (July 1992 and October 1992).

Bergius, Hanne, Das Lachen Dadas, Frankfurt (Main) 1989.

Burkett, Mary, Kurt Schwitters, Creator of Merz, Abbot Hall Art Gallery Kendal, 1979.

Cardinal, Roger, "Collecting and Collage–Making: The Case of Kurt Schwitters," in Elsner, John and Roger Cardinal, eds. The Cultures of Collecting. London, 1994, pp. 68-96.

Cardinal, Roger, "The Hanover Merzbau: Tracing a Lost Masterwork," in Edson, Laurie (ed.). Conjunctions, Verbal-Visual Relations. San Diego, 1996, pp. 187-210.

Cardinal R, Webster G, Kurt Schwitters: A Journey Through Art. Hatje Cantz, 2010.

Crossley, Barbara, The Triumph of Kurt Schwitters. Ambleside, 2005.

Dachy, Marc, Dada. The Revolt of Art. 1915-1925. London, 2006

Dada-Constructivism. The Janus Face of the Twenties. Edited by A. Juda and D. Juda. Exh. cat., Annely Juda Fine Art. London, 1984.

Das große Dadagluten. Die Sammlung Ernst Schwitters. The Fervour of Dada. The Ernst Schwitters Collection. Edited by M. Heinzelmann, L. Schwitters and B.Schwitters. Exh. cat., Sprengel Museum Hannover. Hanover, 1998.

Dickerman, Leah, "Merz and Memory: On Kurt Schwitters," in Dickerman, Leah ed., The Dada Seminars. Washington and New York, 2005, pp. 103–25.

die abstrakten hannover – Internationale Avantgarde 1927–1935, exh.cat. Sprengel Museum Hannover und Wilhelm-Hack-Museum, Ludwigshafen (Rhein), Hanover 1987.

Dietrich, Dorothea, The Collages of Kurt Schwitters. Tradition and Innovation. Cambridge, England, 1993.

El-Danasouri, Andrea, Kunststoff und Müll. Das Material bei Naum Gabo und Kurt Schwitters (Reihe: Beiträge zur Kunstwissenschaft, Bd. 45), Munich 1992.

Elderfield, John. Kurt Schwitters. London, 1985.

Elger, Dietmar, Der Merzbau von Kurt Schwitters. Eine Werkmonographie, 2nd edition. Cologne, 1999.

Elger, Dietmar. Dadaism. Cologne, 2006.

Erlhoff, Michael, Klaus Stadtmüller und das Kulturamt der Stadt Hannover (eds.). Kurt Schwitters Almanach, vols. 1–10. Hanover, 1982–1991. [It should be noted that vols 1-9 all contain one spurious article and vol. 10 is a complete invention.]

Fuchs, Rudi, Conflicts with Modernism or the Absence of Kurt Schwitters. Bern/Berlin, 1991.

Edwards, Steve and Paul Wood (eds.) Art of the Avant-Gardes, New Haven and London, 2004.

Germundson, Curt, "Montage and Totality: Kurt Schwitters’s relationship to tradition and avant-garde," in Jones, Dafydd, ed., Dada Culture: Critical Texts on the Avant-Garde. Amsterdam/New York, 2006, pp. 156-186.

Giedion-Welcker, Carola, Schriften 1926–1971. Stationen zu einem Zeitbild, ed. Reinhold Hohl, Cologne 1973.

Heesen, Anke te, Der Zeitungsausschnitt. Ein Papierobjekt der Moderne, Frankfurt (Main) 2006.

Heine, Werner, "Futura without a Future: Kurt Schwitters' Typography for Hanover Town Council, 1929–1934," Journal of Design History, vol. 7, no. 2, 1994.

Hereth, Hans-Jürgen, Die Rezeptions- und Wirkungsgeschichte von Kurt Schwitters, dargestellt anhand seines Gedichts »An Anna Blume«. (Reihe: Forschungen zur Literatur- und Kulturgeschichte, Bd. 53), Frankfurt (Main), 1996.

Herzogenrath, Wulf, "Kurt Schwitters und der Konstruktivismus", in Wulf Herzogenrath, Mehr als Malerei, Vom Bauhaus zur Videoskulptur, Regensburg 1994, p.177-89.

Hoffman, Katherine (ed.), Collage: Critical Views. Ann Arbor and London, 1989.

In the Beginning was Merz – From Kurt Schwitters to the Present Day. Edited by S. Meyer-Büser, and K. Orchard. Exh. cat. Sprengel Museum Hanover (Ostfildern, 2000).

Katenhusen, Ines, Kunst und Politik. Hannovers Auseinandersetzungen mit der Moderne in der Weimarer Republik, Hannover 1998.

KI, Konstruktivistische Internationale Schöpferische Arbeitsgemeinschaft, exh. cat., Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Dusseldorf 1992.

Kirkeby, Per (ed.), Schwitters. Norwegian Landscapes, The Zoological Gardens, Lottery and More Stories. Hellerup, 1995.

Kuenzli, Rudolf, Dada: Themes and Movements. London, 2006.

Kurt Schwitters, Color and Collage, exh. cat., The Menil Collection Houston (New Haven, 2010).

Kurt Schwitters in Exile: the Late Work, 1937-1948, exh. cat., Marlborough Fine Art. London, 1981.

Kurt Schwitters. Edited by S. Lemoine. Exh. cat. Centre Pompidou. Paris, 1994.

Kurt Schwitters 1887-1948. Edited by J. Büchner and N. Nobis. Exh. cat., 2nd edition, Sprengel Museum Hannover. Hanover, 1987.

Kurt Schwitters, exh. cat., IVAM Centre Julio González. Valencia, 1995 (Spanish/English).

Kurt Schwitters, I is Style, exh. cat, Museum der bildenden Künste, Leipzig and Stedelijk Museum. Amsterdam (Rotterdam, 2000). Kurt Schwitters in Nederland. Merz, De Stijl & Holland Dada, exh. cat., Stadsgalerij Heerlen, Zwolle 1997.

Kurt Schwitters: Merz – a Total Vision of the World, exh. cat., Museum Tinguely. Basle, 2004.

Kurt Schwitters, exh. cat., Städtische Kunsthalle, Düsseldorf 1971.

Kurt Schwitters, Text und Kritik. Zeitschrift für Literatur, ed. Heinz Ludwig Arnold, Heft 35/36, Munich 1972.

Kurt Schwitters und Raoul Hausmann schreiben im Kino eine Oper, ed. Eva Züchner, Berlinische Galerie, Landesmuseum für Moderne Kunst, Photographie und Architektur, Berlin 2001.

Lach, Friedhelm, Der Merzkünstler Kurt Schwitters, Cologne 1971.

Merzgebiete – Kurt Schwitters und seine Freunde, exh. cat., Sprengel Museum Hannover (Cologne, 2006).

Mesens, E.L.T., "A Tribute to Kurt Schwitters", in: Art News and Review, Vol. X No. 19, 11. October 1958

Motherwell, Robert, ed., The Dada Painters and Poets. An Anthology. New York, 1951; paperback reprint of 2nd edition, Cambridge (Massachusetts), 1981.

Neues Bauen der 20er Jahre: Gropius, Haesler, Schwitters und die Dammerstock Siedlung in Karlsruhe, Karlsruhe 1997., exh. cat. Karlsruhe 1997.

Nobis, Beatrix, Kurt Schwitters und die romantische Ironie. Ein Beitrag zur Deutung des Merz-Kunstbegriffes, Alfter 1993.

Notz, Adrian and Hans Ulrich Orbits (eds.). Merz World: Processing the Complicated Order. Zurich, 2007.

Nündel, Ernst, Kurt Schwitters in Selbstzeugnissen und Bilddokumenten. Reinbek bei Hamburg, 1981.

Orchard, Karin, and Isabel Schulz (eds.) Kurt Schwitters. Werke und Dokumente im Sprengel Museum Hannover / Kurt Schwitters. Catalogue of the Works and Documents in the Sprengel Museum Hannover, Sprengel Museum Hannover and Verein der Freunde des Sprengel Museum Hannover, Hanover 1998

Orchard, Karin, and Isabel Schulz, Kurt Schwitters Catalogue Raisonné, vols 1-3. Sprengel Museum Hannover im Auftrag der Niedersächsischen Sparkassenstiftung, der NORD/LB Norddeutschen Landesbank, der Sparkasse Hannover und der Kurt und Ernst Schwitters Stiftung. Ostfildern, 2000 / 2003 / 2006.

Osswald-Hoffmann, Cornelia, Zauber... und Zeigeräume: Raumgestaltungen der 20er und 30er Jahre. Die »Merzbauten« des Kurt Schwitters und der »Prounenraum« sowie die Räumlichkeiten der Abstrakten des El Lissitzky, Munich 2003.

Pirsich, Volker, Der Sturm. Eine Monographie, Herzberg 1985.

Schwitters in Norway. ed. K. Orchard. exh. cat., Henie Onstad Kunstsenter. Oslo, Ostfildern, 2009.

Poggi, Christine, In Defiance of Painting. Cubism, Futurism, and the Invention of Collage. London and New Haven, 1992.

Reichardt, Jasia, (ed.) Raoul Hausmann and Kurt Schwitters, PIN and the story of PIN, Giessen, 1986.

Richter, Hans, DADA – Art and Anti-Art. London, 1965.

Schaub, Gerhard, (ed.) Kurt Schwitters: Bürger und Idiot. Beiträge zu Werk und Wirkung eines Gesamtkünstlers, Berlin 1993.

Schaub, Gerhard, Kurt Schwitters und die „andere" Schweiz. Unveröffentlichte Briefe aus dem Exil. Berlin, 1998.

Scheffer, Bernd, Anfänge experimenteller Literatur. Das literarische Werk von Kurt Schwitters. Bonn, 1978.

Schippers, Karl, Holland Dada, Amsterdam 1974/2000.

Schwitters, exh, cat. ed. Ingried Brugger, Siegfried Gohr und Gunda Luyken, Kunstforum Wien, Vienna 2002.

Schwitters-Arp, exh. cat., Kunsthalle Basel (Ostfildern, 2004).

Schulz, Isabel, Der Nachlass von Kurt und Ernst Schwitters, Kurt und Ernst Schwitters Stiftung, Hanover 2002.

Schmalenbach, Werner, Kurt Schwitters. Cologne, 1967/Munich, 1984.

Stadtmüller, Klaus, Kurt Schwitters in Norwegen. Arbeiten, Dokumente, Ansichten. Hanover, 1997.

Steinitz, Kate Traumann, Kurt Schwitters: a Portrait from Life, with "Collision," a Science-Fiction Opera Libretto in Banalities, Berkeley, 1968.

Stokes, Charlotte, and Stephen C. Foster (eds.), Dada, Cologne, Hanover; Crisis and the Arts: The History of Dada Bd. 3, New York 1997.

Themerson, Stefan, Kurt Schwitters in England. London, 1958.

"Typographie kann unter Umständen Kunst sein" exh. cats. Landesmuseum Wiesbaden, Wiesbaden 1990. Vol. I, Kurt Schwitters. Typographie und Werbegestaltung: vol. 3, ring neue werbegestalter, Die Amsterdamer Ausstellung 1931.

"Typographie kann unter Umständen Kunst sein", vol. IV: Ring neue werbegestalter, 1928–1933. Ein Überblick, exh. cat. ed, Perdita Lottner, Sprengel Museum Hannover, Hanover 1990.

Umland Anne, and Adrian Sudhalter (eds.), Dada in the Collection of The Museum of Modern Art. New York, 2008.

Webster, Gwendolen, Kurt Merz Schwitters, a Biographical Study. Cardiff, 1997.

Webster, Gwendolen, "Kurt Schwitters and Katherine Dreier", in German Life and Letters (October 1999).

Wiesing, Lambert, Stil statt Wahrheit. Kurt Schwitters und Ludwig Wittgenstein über ästhetische Lebensformen, Munich 1991.

Willett, John, The New Sobriety, 1914-33: Art and Politics in the Weimar Period. London, 1979.