Lot 5
  • 5

Kurt Schwitters

120,000 - 180,000 GBP
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  • Kurt Schwitters
  • signed K. Schwitters, titled, dated 1921 and inscribed A on the artist's mount; inscribed Mz 231 on the reverse of the artist's mount
  • collage on paper in the artist's mount
  • image size: 18 by 14.5cm. 7 1/8 by 5 3/4 in.
  • mount size: 28 by 22.5cm. 11 by 9in.


Michel Couturier & Cie, Paris
Private Collection, Germany (acquired circa 1970. Sold: Sotheby's, London, 28th June 2000, lot 231)
Purchased at the above sale by the late owner


Düsseldorf, Städtische Kunsthalle; Berlin, Akademie der Künste; Stuttgart, Staatsgalerie; Basel, Kunsthalle & Hamburg, Kunstverein, Kurt Schwitters, 1971, no. 63


Karin Orchard & Isabel Schulz, Kurt Schwitters, Catalogue raisonné, Ostfildern-Ruit, 2000, vol. I, no. 829, illustrated p. 396

Catalogue Note

‘Merz is a philosophy. Its essence is absolute uninhibitedness and impartiality…Merz means forging relationships, preferably between all things in the world.’ (Kurt Schwitters, quoted in Friedhelm Lach, Kurt Schwitters. Das literarische Werk, Cologne, 1973-81, vol. V, p.187)

Merzzeichnung 231. Barbier., executed in 1921, is an exquisite example of Schwitters’ series of Merz drawings which the artist assembled throughout his career. In June 1919 at the Galerie Der Sturm in Berlin, Schwitters first used the title Merz to designate a collage in the broadest sense: ‘I called Merz this new process whose principle was the use of any material. It was the second syllable of Kommerz. It first appeared in Merzbild, a painting in which, apart from its abstract forms, one could read Merz, cut and pasted from an advertisement for Kommerz- und Privatbank. For my first exhibition of these assemblages in the Galerie Der Sturm in Berlin, I was looking for a term to designate this new genre, for I could not classify my paintings under old labels such as expressionism, cubism, futurism and so on. I called Merzbilder all my pictures which related to this present one’ (Kurt Schwitters, quoted in Friedhelm Lach, Kurt Schwitters. Das literarische Werk, Cologne, 1973-81, vol. V, p. 252).  

The period after the end of the First World War was of special significance for Schwitters: ‘And then all of a sudden, the glorious revolution began… I quitted my job without notice… At last I felt free and I gave vent to my jubilation in a loud outburst’ (ibid, p. 335). With Merz as the guiding philosophy this revolution consisted of a complete re-evaluation of all material values, no doubt spurred by the wild inflation rates in Germany that had left paper currency all but worthless, in an attempt to discover a hidden order amongst the chaos. Based in Hanover, Schwitters maintained close links to the Bauhaus, De Stijl and in particular the International Constructivist movement through László Moholy-Nagy and El Lissitsky, while also irregularly publishing the journal Merz and managing a successful advertising business. The present work exemplifies his early output, with found scraps of paper juxtaposed in order to draw attention to their otherwise neglected colour and texture.