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Details & Cataloguing

Bauhaus_Defining a Century

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London

Kurt Schwitters
1887 - 1948
DAS BILD DER GUTEN HOFFNUNG (THE PICTURE OF GOOD HOPE)
signed with artist's initials and dated 40; signed, dated 1940 and titled on the reverse 
oil, wood and plaster relief  
65.5 by 55 cm. 25 3/4 by 21 5/8 in.
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Provenance

Ernst Schwitters, Lysaker (by descent from the artist)
Marlborough Fine Art, London (on commission 1963-1977)
Susanne Steiner, Forch (acquired by 1989)
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1989

Exhibited

Stockholm, Konstsalongen Samlaren im Konstnärshuset; Kopenhagen, Statens Museum for Kunst und Kunstforeningen; London, Marlborough Fine Art; Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz-Museum; Cologne, Kölnischer Kunstverein and Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans-van Beuningen, Kurt MERZ Schwitters. Retrospektive, 1962-64, no. 154 (Stockholm) and no. 224 (Cologne and Rotterdam)
Edinburgh, New 57 Gallery, Kurt Schwitters, August - September 1976, no. C
Oxford, The Museum of Modern Art, Kurt Schwitters. Merzbilder, December - January 1976-77
New York, Galerie Michael Werner, Kurt Schwitters, October - November 1990, no. 18, illustrated
Krems, Kunsthalle, Chaos, Wahnsinnn. Permutationen der zeitgenössischen Kunst, 1996, p. 191
Vienna, Kunstforum, Schwitters, March - June 2002, p. 167, no. 99, illustrated

Literature

Karin Orchard and Isabel Schulz, Kurt Schwitters, Catalogue raisonné 1937-1948, Vol. III, Hannover 2003, p. 246, no. 2622, illustrated 

Catalogue Note

At the end of the First World War Schwitters’ working practice shifted dramatically, focussing his energy almost exclusively on abstract collage and relief. Coinciding with the founding of the Bauhaus in 1919, it is hard to establish who was the greater influence on whom. Josef Albers’ Gitterbild, executed in 1921 during his last years as a Bauhaus student, and the glass assemblages made prior, echo Schwitters’ practice of Merz and the focus on ‘found objects’, especially the re-appropriation of common materials in art. However, it is likely that during his repeated visits to the Weimar Bauhaus in the 1920s, Schwitters would have discussed Kandinsky’s pursuit of abstract, neo-representational art with the artist and incorporated elements of his practice into his own work.  

Das Bild der guten Hoffnung is an exceptional Merz relief, forming part of Schwitter’s self-proclaimed, and subsequently accurate, late period. Comprising both found objects and figurative painting, the work contrasts organic nature and a constructed idealized form. The central elements of the white flag and painted egg, combined with the romanticised title The Picture of Good Hope, perhaps allude to Schwitters’ imploring hope that Nazism would fail and he would be allowed to return to Germany and his Merzbau in Hanover.

Schwitters engaged with the belief that equal importance of all materials in abstraction is the perfect means of expression. Best illustrated in his own words “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” (Kurt Schwitters, cited in: Gwenda Webster, Kurt Merz Schwitters, Cardiff 1997, p. 53).

Throughout his career Schwitters’ solely focused on the perfection of Merz, returning to it continuously  - "I can see from the work I am doing now, that in my old age I will be able to go on developing Merz. After my death it will be possible to distinguish 4 periods in my Merz works: The Sturm und Drang of the first works – in a sense revolutionary in the art world – then the dry, more scientific search for new possibilities and the laws of composition and materials, then the brilliant game with skills gained, that is to say the present stage, and ultimately the utilization of acquired strengths in the intensification of expression. I will have achieved that in around 10 years." (Kurt Schwitters, ‘Letter to Helma Schwitters’, 23 December 1939, cited in: Exh. Cat., London, Tate, Schwitters in Britain, 2013, p. 56).

Bauhaus_Defining a Century

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London