The Artist Birthday Series

Kurt Schwitters

Today’s Artist Birthday: Kurt Schwitters

Kurt Hermann Eduard Karl Julius Schwitters (20 June 1887 – 8 January 1948) was a German artist who worked in several genres and media, including Dada, Constructivism, Surrealism, poetry, sound, painting, sculpture, graphic design, typography, and what came to be known as installation art. He is most famous for his collages, called Merz Pictures.

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Kurt Schwitters, 1927

Kurt Schwitters was born on 20 June 1887, at No.2 Rumannstraße, Hanover, the only child of Edward Schwitters and his wife Henriette (née Beckemeyer). His parents were proprietors of a ladies’ clothes shop. They sold the business in 1898, using the money to buy five properties in Hanover which they rented out, allowing the family to live off the income for the rest of Schwitters’ life in Germany. In 1901 the family moved to Waldstraße (later Waldhausenstraße) 5, future site of the Merzbau. The same year, Schwitters suffered his first epileptic seizure, a condition that would exempt him from military service in World War I until the last stages of the conflict, when conscription began to be applied to a far wider section of the population.

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Kurt Schwitters, c. 1910

After studying art at the Dresden Academy alongside Otto Dix and George Grosz, (although Schwitters seems to have been unaware of their work, or indeed of contemporary Dresden artists Die Brücke), 1909–15, Schwitters returned to Hanover and started his artistic career as a post-impressionist. In 1911 he took part in his first exhibition, in Hanover. As the First World War progressed his work became darker, gradually developing a distinctive expressionist tone.

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