Lot 34
  • 34

Kurt Schwitters

4,000,000 - 6,000,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Kurt Schwitters
  • Blau (Blue)
  • Signed Schwitters and titled (on the reverse)
  • Oil and wood relief
  • 20 7/8 by 16 1/2 in.
  • 53 by 42 cm


Ernst Schwitters, Lysaker, Norway (by descent from the artist in 1948 and until 1978)

Marlborough Fine Art, London (on commission 1963-1978)

Galerie Gmurzynska, Cologne (acquired by 1978)

Acquired from the above by the present owner


Hanover, Kestner-Gesellschaft; Bern, Kunsthalle; Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum; Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts; Liège, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Kurt Schwitters, 1956. no. 166 (in Amsterdam); no. 123 (in Brussels)

Stockholm, Konstnärshuset; Copenhagen, Statens Museum for Kunst und Kunstforeningen; London, Marlborough Fine Art; Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz-Museum und Kölnischer Kunstverein; Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans-van Beuningen; Milan, Toninelli Arte Moderna & Rome, Marlborough Galleria d’Arte, Kurt Schwitters. Retrospektive, 1962-64, no. 58 (in Stockholm); no. 92 (in London); no. 93 (in Cologne & Rotterdam); no. 44 (in Milan)

Los Angeles, University of California; New York, Marlborough-Gerson Gallery; Kansas City, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art & Toronto, Art Gallery of Toronto, Kurt Schwitters. Retrospective, 1965, no. 68

Dallas, Dallas Museum of Fine Arts; San Francisco, San Francisco Museum of Art & Saint Louis, City Art Museum, Kurt Schwitters. A Retrospective Exhibition, 1965-66, no. 62, illustrated in the catalogue

Dusseldorf, Städtische Kunsthalle; Berlin, Akademie der Künste; Stuttgart, Staatsgalerie; Basel, Kunsthalle & Hamburg, Kunstverein, Kurt Schwitters, 1971, no. 113

London, Marlborough Fine Art; Zurich, Marlborough Galerie; New York, Marlborough Gallery; Rome, Marlborough Galleria d’Arte & Vienna, Museum des 20. Jahrhunderts, Kurt Schwitters, 1972-73, no. 31, illustrated in the catalogue

Bucarest, Art Museum of the Socialist Republic of Romania, Deutsche Bildhauer. 1900-1933. Plastik und Graphik, 1976, no. 140, illustrated in color in the catalogue

Cologne, Galerie Gmurzynska, Zu Gast bei Kate Steinitz, 1977-78, illustrated in the catalogue

Cologne, Galerie Gmurzynska, Kurt Schwitters, 1978, no. 22, illustrated in color in the catalogue

New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, The Planar Dimension: Europe 1912-1932, 1979, no. 77, illustrated in the catalogue

Munster, Westfälisches Landesmuseum, Reliefs, 1980, no. 81, illustrated in color in the catalogue

Caracas, Museo de Arte Contemporáneo, El espiritu Dada 1915/1925, 1980-81, illustrated in color in the catalogue

Madrid, Fundación Juan March & Barcelona, Fundació Joan Miró, Kurt Schwitters, 1982-83, no. 54, illustrated in color in the catalogue

Zurich, Kunsthaus; Dusseldorf, Städtische Kunsthalle und Kunstverein für die Rheinlande und Westfalen; Vienna, Museum des 20. Jahrhunderts & Berlin, Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Schloss Charlottenburg, Orangerie & DAAD-Galerie, Der Hang zum Gesamtkunstwerk: Europäische Utopien seit 1800, 1983-84, n.n.

New York, The Museum of Modern Art; London, The Tate Gallery & Hanover, Sprengel Museum, Kurt Schwitters, 1985-86, no. 60, illustrated in the catalogue

Paris, Musée National d’Art Moderne, Qu'est-ce que la sculpture moderne?, 1986, no. 69, illustrated in color in the catalogue

Paris, Musée National d’Art Moderne; Valencia, Instituto Valenciano de Arte Moderno & Grenoble, Musée de Grenoble, Kurt Schwitters, 1994-95, n.n., illustrated in color in the catalogue

Leipzig, Museum der Bildenden Künste & Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Kurt Schwitters. I is Style, 2000, n.n., illustrated in color in the catalogue (illustrated upside down)

Basel, Museum Tinguely, Kurt Schwitters: MERZ - ein Gesamtweltbild, 2004, no. 66, illustrated in color in the catalogue

Madrid, Fundación Juan March, Celebration of Art: A Half Century of the Fundación Juan March, 2005-06, no. 26, illustrated in color in the catalogue

Houston, The Menil Collection; Princeton, Princeton University Art Museum & Berkeley, University of California, Berkeley Art Museum, Kurt Schwitters: Color and Collage, 2010-11, no. 33, illustrated in color in the catalogue


Werner Schmalenbach, Kurt Schwitters, Munich, 1967, no. 121, illustrated n.p.

Renato Maestri, "ComMerzBankKurt-SchwitterRs. Una Lezione Rapsodica" in Domas, vol. 590, 1979, illustrated in color p. 46

Yusuke Nakahara, "From the Lifeless View of Scrapping" in Bijutsu Techo, vol. 31, no. 452, Tokyo, August 1979, illustrated in color n.p. 

Serge Lemoine, "Schwitters 'Je suis peintre, je cloue mes tableaux'" in Beaux Arts Magazine, no. 6, Paris, October 1983, illustrated in color p. 50

Werner Schmalenbach, Kurt Schwitters, Munich, 1984, no. 121, illustrated n.p. 

Margit Rowell, ed., Skulptur im 20. Jahrhundert: Figur - Raumkonstruktion - Prozess, Munich, 1986, illustrated in color p. 59, pl. 60

Peter Stepan, "Panorama moderner Plastik" in Die Kunst, 9/1986, illustrated in color p. 655 

John Elderfield, Kurt Schwitters, Düsseldorf, 1987, fig. 212, illustrated n.p.

Marc Dachy, Kurt Schwitters: Merz Ecrits, Paris, 1990, illustrated p. 178

Roland Bothner, Grund und Figur: Die Geschichte des Reliefs und Auguste Rodins Höllentor, Munich 1993, no. 155, illustrated in color n.p. 

Marc Dachy, ed., "Kurt Schwitters, I" (manifestes théoriques & poétiques), Paris, 1994, illustrated p. 88

Christopher Green, The Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection: The European Avant-gardes. Art in France and Western Europe, 1904 - c. 1945, London, 1995, illustrated p. 437

Jurrie Poot, "Ik ben Schilder, ik spijker mijn schilderijen/I am a painter, I nail my paintings together" in Bulletin Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 2000, illustrated in color p. 6

Karin Orchard & Isabel Schulz, Kurt Schwitters, Catalogue raisonné, Hanover, 2003, vol. II, no. 1100, illustrated p. 43

Schwitters (exhibition catalogue), Kunstforum, Vienna, 2002, pp. 152-56

Catalogue Note

Dating from a seminal period in the artist’s career, Blau (Blue) exemplifies the principles of the one-man artistic movement that Schwitters founded and highlights his unique and innovative approach to Dadaist theory and practice. Like many of his contemporaries, in the years immediately following the First World War, Schwitters rejected the conventional values of the art establishment in favor of a deliberately nonsensical and anti-art approach. Declaring that, “Everything had broken down in any case and new things had to be made out of the fragments” (quoted in L. Dickerman, Dada: Zurich, Berlin, Hannover, Cologne, New York, Paris, Washington, D.C., 2005, p. 159), he developed his own radically personal form of Dada expression which he called Merz – reportedly taking the name from ‘Commerz Bank’ which appeared on a scrap of paper he used in one of his own collages. Among the particular emphases of Merz-painting was a belief in the equal importance of all materials and in abstraction as the perfect means of expression, as the artist himself explained: “Merz paintings are abstract works of art. The word Merz denotes essentially the combination of all conceivable materials for artistic purposes, and technically the principle of equal evaluation of the individual materials…. The artist creates through choice, distribution and metamorphosis of the materials” (quoted in G. Webster, Kurt Merz Schwitters, Cardiff, 1997, p. 53).

This expansive and democratic use of materials continued the Dada anti-art message, but whereas Dada also placed an emphasis on nonsense and silliness, Merz was self-consciously serious. In creating both his collage and relief constructions Schwitters moved beyond the confines of traditional oil painting; rather than placing line against line, and color against color, he juxtaposed actual materials, seeking a purer form of artistic expression. Much as the de Stijl artists (Schwitters met Theo van Doesburg in 1922 and they became close friends) sought a new truth in abstract forms, Schwitters insisted that abstraction was the future, arguing that any external reference undermined a work’s status as an art object.

The success of this approach is particularly apparent in the three-dimensional collage-reliefs that Schwitters began making in the mid-1920s, using found objects – often pieces of wood – that were then painted in bold, primary tones. Discussing these works John Elderfield writes: “… these painted high-relief pictures took two general directions. The first produced a group of usually quite small, blocky reliefs with relatively few geometric elements arranged in a grid-like way. Blau (Blue) of c. 1923-26 [the present work] is characteristic of these simple, sturdy and very beautiful works, which are at one and the same time objects (its ground of vertical planks and geometrically disposed objects producing a symbiosis between the inside of the picture and its literal shape) and containers of objects, albeit objects disguised by paint” (J. Elderfield, op. cit., p. 184).

In Blau, Schwitters combines different shapes of roughly-hewn wood with a striking palette of blue, yellow and red or pink tones, using the paint to achieve an important synthesis between the constituent elements of the work. As Elderfield goes on to explain: “One surprising feature of these pictures is their color… nothing in his earlier paintings prepares us for the beauty and originality of pure color that we find here. Schwitters seemed unable to control the color balances of very complex compositions … but with simpler ones – where color could spread to occupy relatively large areas – he proved himself very adept indeed. As with the Constructivist-style collages of this period, it is the color as well as the roughness of the materials that lift these works out of the ordinary” (ibid., p. 184).