Ohne Titel (Apollo im Februar)

Collage, 1929, 18,4x14,2cm, Henie-Onstad Kunstsenter

Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948) was part of the European avant-garde during the first half of the 20th century and had a determining influence on later artists and experimental movements and genres, such as Surrealism, Fluxus, happenings, performance art, etc.

Schwitters is especially known for his so-called Merz pictures. The name was chosen by coincidence and had no particular significance; it stems from a fragment of the name of a business, “Commerz- und Disconto-Bank”, which Schwitters cut out of a leaflet and used as a central element in one of his pictures. The Merz pictures are collages composed of various materials and found objects such as newspaper clippings, postcards, wrapping paper, bits of cloth, tram tickets, photographs, etc. Untitled (Apollo in February) is a characteristic example of these works.

But Merz is also larger and more significant than the individual work. It can be viewed as an expression of Schwitters’ entire artistic project, which encompasses a cornucopia of genres in addition to visual art: poetry, drama, music, art criticism, prose, architecture, etc. For Schwitters there was actually no distinction between life and art, it was rather a question of everything being part of an overall Gesamtkunstwerk [all-embracing work of art] where there was no difference between high and low, important and unimportant.

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Pariser Frühling

Collage, oil and wood on plywood, 1935, 60,1x49,6cm, Henie-Onstad Kunstsenter

Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948) was a prominent figure in European art history during the first half of the 20th century. He was loosely associated with the radical Dada movement from the end of the First World War, and he had great significance for Surrealism and for the experimental trends of later periods such as performance, happenings, fluxus, etc. His artistic production is pertinent even today and enjoys the interest of ever new generations of artists – in a Norwegian context one can for example point to an idiosyncratic and diversified artist such as Hilmar Fredriksen.

Schwitters is especially known for his so-called Merz pictures. Like “Dada”, the name is arbitrarily and originally chosen without any sense. It stems from a fragment of the name of the commercial firm ”Commerz- und Disconto-Bank” that Schwitter cut out of a printed brochure and used as a central element in one of his pictures. The Merz pictures are collages put together out of various materials and found objects such as bits of newspapers, postcards, wrapping paper, pieces of fabric, tram tickets, photographs, etc. Yet Merz represents something more and greater than the individual work. It can be perceived as a designation for Schwitters’entire artistic project, which encompasses countless modes of expression in addition to visual art; poetry, drama, music, art criticism, prose writing, architecture etc. For Schwitters there was hardly any separation between life and art, on the contrary, it was all part of a sweeping Gesamtkunstwerk where there was no distinction between high and low, meaningful and meaningless.

One might think it strange that an artist of Kurt Schwitters’ distinction would choose to live and work for long periods in a country as remote as Norway. It was almost by chance that he discovered the landscape of Western Norway while on a cruise to Spitsbergen in 1929, and in the following years he visited the countryside – and in particular Hjertøya outside of Molde – repeatedly. Due to the tense situation in Germany he fled to Norway with his family in 1937 and settled in Lysaker, outside of Oslo (it is a peculiar coincidence that this international avant-garde artist decided to settle here of all places, for the area had been the base for the highly national minded Lysaker Circle, with Erik Werenskiold and Gerhard Munthe as central figures).  The family remained living here for three years before having to flee once again after the Germans invaded Norway. This time it was to England.

As an artist, Schwitters remained very isolated in Norway. His innovative works of the 1920s and 30s met with very little interest; the only exception seems to have been Olav Strømme who around 1935 conducted Merz-inspired experiments with collage. Not even the normally so progressive art collector Rolf Stenersen showed an interest, and today there are very few works by him in Norwegian museums or private collections. It wasn’t until many years later, when Schwitters had long since been canonised as a pioneer of modernism that anyone in Norway began to show an interest in his work.

During the years he lived in Norway Schwitters had a relatively large production. He worked continuously on collages, but partly inspired by the imposing landscapes of Western Norway and partly for economic reasons, he also created many conventional, relatively easy to sell landscape paintings and a good number of portraits. It is not without reason that these works have posthumously been evaluated as a less interesting element in Schwitters’ production, but they of course have inherent relevance and significance in a Norwegian context. In addition to these works, Schwitters built two of a total of four of his so-called Merzbau in Norway. He considered these constructions as the culmination of his vision of the absolute work of art that would encompass all art forms and all creative possibilities. Merzbau was a total transformation of common interiors and sitting rooms, and they were in a constant state of change. Little by little the rooms became covered in large quantities of various cuttings, materials, artefacts and objects. As a huge three-dimensional collage. Haus am Bakken in Lysaker burnt to the ground in 1951, and the stone cottage at Hjertøya deteriorated for many years, but parts of it are intact and will now be restored and preserved. This is a project that will be conducted as a collaboration between Henie Onstad Art Centre, Romsdal Museum and the DNB Savings Bank Foundation. The cottage at Hjertøya is moreover the only one of Schwitters’ four Merzbau constructions that has not been totally lost.

The painting collage Pariser Frühling is dated 1936 and can feasibly have been made in Norway. During the spring of this year Schwitters was in Paris, however, and considering the title it is most likely that it came into being there; it at least refers to his stay in the French capital. This relatively large collage appears as a three-dimensional painting (oil on pieces of wood mounted on a board). The composition is dominated by a circular shape contrasted to a number of vertical structures. The palette is subdued and sober, but is interspersed with vibrantly coloured accents. Together with two similar works from this period, it differs somewhat from the other works from these years. It has a simpler and more stringent style that both refers to earlier collages from the 20s, and can also be reminiscent of his abstract paintings from the end of the 30s. The work can be seen in connection with the elegant, amorphous sculptures by Jean Arp and works by the Surrealist Max Ernst – both active and major figures in Paris during the 30s, precisely when Schwitters was there. The formal execution of Pariser Frühling seems particularly related to Ernst’s visions of a petrified city or forest with a lunar shape, in which case there is probably also a connection leading to Olav Strømme (The City, 1937).

Schwitters was not interested in the “content” in art, but in the problems pertaining to form. It was first and foremost the unique characteristics of the materials and found objects that preoccupied him. By using objects, often refuse and trash, he wished to give life to art. He wanted in a concrete and metaphorical sense to transform reality into art. In the beginning of the 20s he described his working method as follows: “I use all kinds of materials… if the picture requires it. Material montage gives me an advantage over traditional oil painting, since in addition to placing colour against colour, line against line, form against form, etc. I can place material against material, wood against burlap, for example.” Somewhere else he elaborates on this: “The creative process does not have any aim. The work of art develops exclusively out of the means. And these means are unambiguous. Art is balance that has been created by placing all of the parts in relationship to each other.”

In addition to Pariser Frühling the smaller collage Ohne Titel (Apollo im Februar), 1930-31, is also in the possession of the DNB Savings Bank Foundation. They will be shown at the Henie Onstad Art Centre beginning 23 September in their newly opened room devoted to Kurt Schwitters.

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Merz 3 Mappe. Erste mappe des Merz Verlages

Lithograph, 1922, 56,5x45cm, Henie-Onstad Kunstsenter

No title (Painting with a half moon)

Assemblage, 1933, 47,5x38cm, Henie-Onstad Kunstsenter

Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948) belongs to the international avant-garde of the early 1900s and was loosely connected to the Dada movement. He was one of the first to work with collage and material pictures and had a great influence on later generations of artists who worked within experimental movements such as performance, happenings, Fluxus, etc.

Upon the enthusiastic recommendation of friend and colleague Hannah Höch, Schwitters travelled with his wife to Norway in 1929. They took a cruise along the Norwegian coast as far north as Svalbard, and both became enchanted with Western Norway’s exuberant and imposing nature. In the coming years they returned several times, and spent considerable time at Hjertøya outside of Molde in particular.

Due to the tense situation in Germany the family even decided to escape to Norway in 1937, and settled down at Lysaker on the outskirts of Oslo. They remained here for three years until the German invasion, which forced them to flee one again. This time to Great Britain.

As far as can be ascertained, Schwitters created Untitled (Picture with a Half Moon) during one of their stays at Hjertøya. The work was created during the period 1934 – 37 and its first proprietor was Per Vassbotn, a local drawing instructor in Molde, who most likely received it as a gift from the artist. The picture has since been in the possession of Swedish, Danish and English owners, until it was incorporated in the Savings Bank Foundation’s art collection.

In this work Schwitters carries on the experimental and innovative style comprised of found objects and the simple materials he worked with during the 1920s, yet the idiom has now become “richer” and the composition is not as stringent as in the earlier works. The palette is sober and the colours are elegantly harmonised with each other, yet still muster hints of expressiveness in the sections with dripping paint.

Untitled (Picture with a Half Moon) is far from characteristic of the pictures that Schwitters created in Norway. Although he continued to work with collage – which this work is a good example of – the majority of the paintings are far more traditional. Partly inspired by the magnificent nature of Western Norway, and partly due to economic circumstances, he created many conventional landscapes and a fair number of portraits that were relatively easy to sell. It is not without reason that these works have posthumously been considered as a less interesting part of Schwitters’ production, though they of course have innate value and significance in a Norwegian context.

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Vase with flowers

pencil on paper, 1938, 19x17 cm, Henie-Onstad Kunstsenter

Konstruktion des Raumes

collage, 1920, 20,8x17,3cm, Henie-Onstad Kunstsenter

Ohne Titel (Rote Rose)

collage, 1932, 18,1x14cm, Henie-Onstad Kunstsenter

In this collage by Kurt Schwitters (1880-1948) Ohne Titel (Rote Rose) (Untitled - Red Rose) from the early 1930s there are several fragments of Norwegian text.

On a torn-off slip of paper partly covered in scribble, partial images of an assortment of Narvesen’s sales items can be made out; magazines, tobacco and chocolate. There is also a segment of a German menu from Schwitter’s journey by boat to Spitsbergen. The collage is characterised by a refined and bold palette and a precise compositional form.

Kurt Schwitters visited Norway for the first time in 1929 when he and his wife Helma took a cruise along the Norwegian coast. He visited the country many times throughout the 1930s, and settled here in 1937 after fleeing the Nazis in his native Germany. He remained living in Norway with his family for three years before having to flee once again after the German invasion. This time to England.

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Das Schwert des deutschen Geistes

oil on wood, 1934, 47,8cm, Henie-Onstad Kunstsenter

Für Hartmann

collage, 1921, 19,2 x 15,7cm, Henie-Onstad Kunstsenter

Towards the end of the 1910s Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948) began creating pictures out of random materials and objects that he found in his close surroundings.

Things that had been discarded, ruined or lost, and considered by most to be scrap or rubbish. It might be pieces of fabric, torn newspaper fragments or tram tickets. Or it might be larger objects, such as pieces of wooden planks, wire, cartons or chain remnants. These works are referred to as collages or assemblages.

The collage Für Hartmann has a classic, subdued and geometric style characteristic of Schwitter’s works from the early 20s. He has attached bits of paper in a crisscross pattern on which the name “Anna Blume” appears in bold type. The pictorial space is covered with various mechanically applied stamps and a bold letter “A” drawn in bright red crayon. The direct reference to Anna Blume adds an element of intrigue to the picture, as it was the title of a poem that Schwitters wrote in 1919. The poem was a parody of the love poem and has remained standing as a symbol of the chaos and unpredictability that characterised the period, in addition to heralding a new poetic language.

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Ohne Titel (Vanille Schokolade nr.103C)

Collage, 1920, 13x10 cm, Henie-Onstad Kunstsenter

Mz 386 Hopf (Merzzeichnung)

1921, 17,8 x 14,6 cm, Henie-Onstad Kunstsenter

The German avant-garde artist Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948) is especially known for his so-called Merzpictures, which he began making towards the end of the 1910s and continued working with throughout his artistic career.

These pictures, or collages, are composed of the most varied waste products and materials, which Schwitters found wherever he was living or working at any given time: a small patch of fabric, fragments of a tram ticket or a page from a newspaper, a torn candy wrapper, part of a postcard, etc. The brusque and uncompromising Mz Höpf 386 is a characteristic example of Schwitter’s collages from the early 1920s. The composition is dominated by rectangular and square pieces of paper that are kept in the same range of values, but with different textures. With one exception the pieces are cut in a straight line with sharp precision. The style is taut and geometrical, and suggests a kinship with Paul Klee and Piet Mondrian, in addition to Jean Arp’s geometrical collages from the end of the 1910s.

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Das Korbbild

Different media, 1939, 67,5 x 75,2 cm, Henie-Onstad Kunstsenter

The large assemblage Das Korbbild by the German artist Kurt Schwitters was most likely made while the artist lived in Norway. A rather remarkable work, an amoebic yet elegant gesso figure mounted on a simple wooden board, the relief is quite deep and the boundary between picture and sculpture is nearly eclipsed.

The little basket with a few shells, stones and a chain remnant attached to it constitutes a tangible still life and gives the work a charming, artful appearance. The gesso element is a direct reference to the freestanding sculptures he made during the 30s, among themDas Schwert des Deutschen Geistes, which is also in the collection.

It may seem surprising that an artist of Kurt Schwitters’ standing chose to stay for long periods in Norway. He travelled here for the first time in 1929 with his wife Helma, when they took a two-weeks cruise north along the Norwegian coast as far as Svalbard. Throughout the 1930s he returned to Norway, either alone or together with Helma and their son Ernst. Schwitters visited not only in summer, but also during the other seasons, and often for weeks and months at a time. Because of the tense situation in his homeland, the family was forced to flee in 1937, and they chose to settle in Lysaker on the outskirts of Oslo. They lived here for three years before being forced to flee once again, after the German invasion of Norway. Father and son travelled to Great Britain, while Helma returned to Germany.

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Erik Falkenthal

oil on wood, 1935, 59x49 cm, Henie-Onstad Kunstsenter

Evy Falkenthal

oil on wood, 1936, 83,5x76,5 cm, Henie-Onstad Kunstsenter

Portrait sketch of Evy Falkenthal

oil on paper, 1936, 18,5x11 cm, Henie-Onstad Kunstsenter

Bild N/Weinachtsbild mit grossem N

Oil, collage, wood, porcelain, metal and plaster on panel , 1938, 65,6 x 53,9 cm, Henie-Onstad Kunstsenter

Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948) was an all-around artist who worked in a number of mediums and genres; painting, assemblage, collage, sculpture, lithography, poetry, music and architecture.

The assemblage works, which Bild N (Picture N) is an example of, are composed of an assortment of materials and objects that Schwitters collected. It could be anything from a length of chain, pieces of wood and planks, to stones, ropes and plaster elements. In other words, mundane objects and residual products. Schwitters was one of the first artists to make this working method a predominant part of his artistic project.

He was not particularly interested in the “content” of art, but rather in the problems related to form. It was the unique qualities of the materials and objects that preoccupied him. By employing trash and waste material he wished to enliven art; in a concrete and metaphorical sense he wished to transform reality into art.

At Henie Onstad Kunstsenter you can study Bild N (Picture N) and the remainder of the DNB Savings Bank Foundation’s Schwitters collection at close range.

Read more about the Schwitters collection

By: Oda Wildhagen Gjessing

Mountain Landscape, Geiranger

Oil on canvas, 1930, Henie-Onstad Kunstsenter

Merzzeichnung 231. Barbier

collage, 1920, 18x14,5cm, Henie-Onstad Kunstsenter

Komposition (Bild mit Bahnhofsplan)

Oil on paper, 1942, 104 x 74,5 cm, Henie-Onstad Kunstsenter

Left half of a beauty

Collage, 1946, 22,7 x 17,2cm, Henie-Onstad Kunstsenter

Edelweiss

Collage, 1919, 18x15 cm, Henie-Onstad Kunstsenter

Abstract Skøyen 1

oil on wood, 1939, 65x53 cm, Henie-Onstad Kunstsenter

No title

Collage, 1932, 12,5 x 9,5 cm, Henie-Onstad Kunstsenter

Untitled (Book)

Collage, 1947, 24,5 x 22 cm, Henie-Onstad Kunstsenter

Merzbild 1 B Bild mit rotem Kreuz

Oil, collage, gouache and canvas on plate, 1919, 64.5 x 54.2 cm, Henie-Onstad Kunstsenter