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Merzbild 13A

Artist Kurt Schwitters (German, 1887–1948)
Title Merzbild 13A
Date 1919
Medium Mixed media assemblage
Dimensions Framed: 26 1/2 × 23 × 2 1/8 in. (67.3 × 58.4 × 5.4 cm)
Overall: 16 1/2 x 12 3/4 in. (41.9 x 32.4 cm)
Credit Line Jane and Roger Wolcott Memorial, Gift of Thomas T. Solley, Eskenazi Museum of Art, Indiana University
Accession Number 75.39

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About this Work

Though collage was pioneered by Picasso and Braque within the context of Cubism, it was enthusiastically adopted by Kurt Schwitters and other members of the Dada movement in post-World War I Berlin. The term Merz was coined by Schwitters, who excised this syllable from an advertisement for the Kommerz- und Privatbank, a German bank. It became the title for Schwitters’ extensive output of collages, assemblages, and installations. This Merzbild, one of Schwitters’ earliest collages, is composed of found objects, including fabric scraps, coins, cork, washers, and nails. Schwitters later explained that the material deprivations in postwar Germany inspired his use of these mundane objects in his work.

1975, Indiana University Art Museum purchase from Marlborough Gallery, New York, with funds from Thomas T. Solley

1963–1975, Ernst Schwitters, Lysaker, Norway, and Marlborough-Gerson Gallery, London and New York [1]

1962, with Galerie Beyeler, Basel, Switzerland [2]

1961, Collection of Dr. Paul Hänggi, Basel, Switzerland [3]

1955–ca. 1961, Collection of G. David Thompson (1899–1965), Pittsburgh, PA [4]

1952–ca. 1955, Sidney Janis Gallery, New York (presumably purchased from Galerie Berggruen) [5]

before 1952, Galerie Berggruen, Paris, France [6]

possibly: ca. 1945–ca. 1949, Estate of Kurt Feldhäusser, c/o Marie Luise Feldhäusser (1876–1967), Berlin (until 1948), thereafter New York [7]

by 1937–1945 (?), Collection of Dr. Kurt Feldhäusser (1905–1945), Berlin [8]

probably: ca. 1926–before 1932, with Galerie Der Sturm, Berlin [9]

ca. 1920–ca. 1926, with Katherine S. Dreier (1877–1952), New York [10]

probably: by 1920, with Galerie Der Sturm, Berlin [11]


[1] Per Karin Orchard and Isabel Schulz, eds., Kurt Schwitters: Catalogue Raisonné, vo1. 1, Hannover: Sprengel Museum, 2000, p. 217. In the early 1960s, the artist’s son Ernst Schwitters reacquired multiple works by his father, which he later had consigned with Marlborough Gallery. The collage was shipped to the gallery in October 1974.

[2] Per Karin Orchard and Isabel Schulz, eds., Kurt Schwitters: Catalogue Raisonné, vo1. 1, Hannover: Sprengel Museum, 2000, p. 217. The catalogue raisonné entry suggests that the gallery did not purchase the piece, but that it may have been consigned, probably by its last known owner, Dr. Paul Hänggi, also of Basel.

[3] Per Orchard and Schulz, Kurt Schwitters: Catalogue Raisonné, vol. 1, p. 217. Hänggi, a Swiss industrialist, purchased the collage in 1961, but the details of this purchase remain unclear. Ernst Beyeler (1921–2010) brokered numerous sales in European on behalf of the collage’s most recent owner, the eminent collector G. David Thompson. Hänggi could have purchased the collage from him or from one of the European exhibitions of Thompson’s collection in 1960–61 (Merzbild 13A appeared in the Zurich, Dusseldorf, Hague, and Turin venues).

[4] Per Karin Orchard and Isabel Schulz, eds., Kurt Schwitters: Catalogue Raisonné, vo1. 1, Hannover: Sprengel Museum, 2000, p. 217. The Pittsburgh-based steel executive G. David Thompson was one of the most important American collectors of modern art of his day. He purchased numerous works by Schwitters from galleries throughout the United States and Europe in the 1950s.

[5] Per Karin Orchard and Isabel Schulz, eds., Kurt Schwitters: Catalogue Raisonné, vo1. 1, Hannover: Sprengel Museum, 2000, p. 217. The collage is visible in an installation photograph from 1952 and reproduced in the Sidney Janis catalogue of 1959.

[6] Per Orchard and Schulz, Kurt Schwitters: Catalogue Raisonné, vol. 1, p. 217. According to Dr. Isabel Schultz of the Schwitters Archiv, the Galerie Berggruen provenance was found in the files of the Sidney Janis Gallery. In speaking with Heinz Berggruen, however, Schulz states that he was unable to recall any details concerning his acquisition of the collage (per email correspondence with Schulz, March 3, 2016). Berggruen, a native Berliner, emigrated to the United States in 1937 but later returned to Europe, at first to Berlin with the U.S. Army. He then settled in Paris, where he opened the first iteration of Galerie Berggruen in 1947. Notably, Berggruen began purchasing works in paper in the 1940s while he was still in the United States, beginning with a watercolor by Klee. It is not certain whether he may have acquired Merzbild 13A in the United States, or possibly even Berlin.

[7] After Kurt Feldhäusser’s death in an air raid, his mother Marie Luise Feldhäusser inherited his estate, including his art collection. In 1948, she emigrated to the United States, bringing the collection with her and consigning most of it with the Weyhe Gallery, New York, in 1949. At the present time, it is not certain whether Merzbild 13A was among those works in her possession, or whether Kurt Feldhäusser may have disposed of the collage before he died.

[8] The Schwitters Archiv in Hannover contains a letter from Feldhäusser to Schwitters, dated November 24, 1937, in which writes that he owns Merzbild 13A. Feldhäusser was both a collector of modern German art and an art dealer. Together with his business partner Maria Johanne Fritze, he operated Galerie Feldhäusser et Fritze (also: Galerie F et F) on Kurfürstendamm in Berlin from 1935 to 1936 according to Birgit Jochen in Von Haus zu Haus am Kurfürstendamm (Berlin: Museum Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf), p. 15. His collection, assembled between 1923 and 1945, included several artworks deemed “degenerate” by Nazis and henceforth confiscated from German art museums with the assistance of art dealer Ferdinand Möller. We do not know whether Feldhäusser acquired this Merzbild before or after the “degenerate art” confiscations, which commenced in July 1937, but Merzbild 13A does not appear in the Freie Universität’s database of works removed from German museums (indicating that it probably never entered a museum collection in Germany). Isabel Schultz of the Kurt Schwitters Archive has stated that Feldhäusser “supposedly” purchased the collage from Galerie Der Sturm. Works by Schwitters were featured in one exhibition at Galerie Der Sturm in September 1928 after Merzbild 13A had been returned there in 1926, suggesting that Feldhäusser could have acquired the collage after seeing it then on view. Unfortunately, no checklist of works in this exhibition has survived. We do not know whether the work remained in Feldhäusser’s collection at the time of his death in 1945.

[9] According to Dr. Isabel Schultz of the Kurt Schwitters Archiv in Hannover, this Merzbild is included on a list “that names works which the Société Anonyme returned to the Sturm gallery (probably about 1926).” Schultz’s source is found in folder 979, box 33, Société Anonyme files in the Yale University Archives (per email correspondence of March 3, 2016, with Schultz). This supports the possibility that Dreier had borrowed, not purchased, the Merzbild around 1920. The Galerie Der Sturm closed in 1932.

[10] In 1920, Dreier, along with artist Marcel Duchamp, founded the Société Anonyme, a collecting and exhibition society focusing on avant-garde, especially European, art. Dreier traveled to Berlin in 1920 and presumably acquired the Merzbild at that time, probably from the Galerie Der Sturm. Details about Dreier’s possession of the Merzbild are murky; it is not clear whether Dreier ever owned the piece or just held it on a long-term loan. In email correspondence of February 2, 2016, Frauke Josenhans, Assistant Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Yale University Art Gallery, wrote that “sometimes artists loaned their work to the Société Anonyme for a longer period of time, and only transferred the ownership much later (or never).” The Merzbild is reproduced in the First Annual Report of the Société Anonyme of 1920-21 (page 18) and in Dreier’s 1923 book Western Art and the New Era: An Introduction to Modern Art (fig. 60, page 119).

[11] Galerie Der Sturm, based in Berlin, was established in 1912 by Herwarth Walden. That same year, the gallery initiated an ambitious program of rotating monthly exhibitions which continued almost without disruption until 1932. Works by Schwitters were on almost continuous display at the gallery throughout 1919 and 1920, although we do not know for certain whether Merzbild 13A was among them.

Provenance research is ongoing for this and many other items in the Eskenazi Museum of Art permanent collection. For more information about the provenance of this artwork, please contact the department curator with specific questions.

January 17–June 7, 2009, "Illuminazioni: Avanguardie a confronto: Italia / Germania / Russia," Museo di Arte Moderna e Contemporanea di Trento e Rovereto, Rovereto, Italy

September 16–November 27, 1995, "Kurt Schwitters Retrospective," Musée de Grenoble, France

November 22, 1994–February 20, 1995, "Kurt Schwitters Retrospective," Centre Georges Pompidou, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris, France

November 12–December 31, 1980, "20th Century Paintings, Sculpture, and Drawings from the Collection of Indiana University Art Museum, Bloomington," The Arts Club of Chicago, Chicago, IL

November 10, 1977–January 8, 1978, "Tendenzen der Zwanziger Jahre," Städtische Galerie im Städelschen Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt am Main, Germany

August 14–October 16, 1977, "Tendenzen der Zwanziger Jahre. 15. Europäische Kunstausstellung Berlin 1977," Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Neue Nationalgalerie, Akademie der Künste und Große Orangerie, Berlin, Germany

December 1973, "Kurt Schwitters," Museum des 20, Jahrhunderts, Vienna, Austria

September–November(?) 1973, "Kurt Schwitters," Marlborough Galleria d'Arte, Rome, Italy

February–March 1973, "Kurt Schwitters," Marlborough Gallery, New York, NY

November 1972–January 1973, "Kurt Schwitters," Marlborough Galerie Zürich, Switzerland

October 1972, "Kurt Schwitters," Marlborough Fine Art, London, England

September 25–November 21, 1971, "Kurt Schwitters," Kunstverein in Hamburg, Germany

July 31–September 5, 1971, "Kurt Schwitters," Kunsthalle Basel, Switzerland

May 14–July 18, 1971, "Kurt Schwitters," Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, Germany

March 12–April 18, 1971, "Kurt Schwitters," Akademie der Künste, Berlin, Germany

January 15–March 3, 1971, "Kurt Schwitters," Städtische Kunsthalle, Düsseldorf, Germany

November 11, 1965-April 20, 1966, "Kurt Schwitters: A Retrospecive Exhibition" (traveling exhibition): March 21–April 20, 1966, City Art Museum of Saint Louis, MO; January 14–February 27, 1966, San Francisco Museum of Art, San Francisco, CA; November 11–December 12, 1965, Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, Dallas, TX (cat. no. 13, as "Merzbild 13A: Der kleine Merzel")

September 10–October 10, 1965, "Kurt Schwitters Retrospective," Art Gallery of Toronto, Ontario

July 1–August 29, 1965, "Kurt Schwitters Retrospective," The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, MO

May–June 1965, "Kurt Schwitters Retrospective," Marlborough-Gerson Gallery, New York, NY

March 21–April 25, 1965, "Kurt Schwitters Retrospective," University of California, Los Angeles, CA

June 27–October 5, 1964, "documenta III," documenta, Kassel, Germany

1964, exhibited in Rome, Italy

January 24–March 4, 1964, "Kurt Schwitters 1887–1948. Schilderijen, collages, sculpturen, tekeningen," Museum Boymans-Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, Netherlands (cat. no. 24, as "Merzbild 13A: Der kleine Merzel")

October 9–November 24, 1963, "Kurt Schwitters. 1887–1948," Wallraff-Richartz-Museum, Cologne, Germany

March–April 1963, "Kurt Schwitters," Marlborough Fine Arts Limited, London, England

October–November 1961, "Esposizione: Collezione G. David Thompson, Pittsburgh/USA," Galleria Civica d'Arte Moderna, Turin, Italy

May 26–August 27, 1961, "One Hundred Paintings from the G. David Thompson Collection," Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY

February 17–April 9, 1961, "Collectie Thompson uit Pittsburg," Haags Gemeentmuseum, Den Haag, Netherlands

December 14, 1960–January 28, 1961, "Thompson Pittsburgh. Aus einer amerikanischen Privatsammlung/Sammlung G. David Thompson, Pittsburgh, USA," Kunstmuseum Düsseldorf, Germany

October 15–November 27, 1960, "Thompson Pittsburgh. Aus einer amerikanischen Privatsammlung/Sammlung G. David Thompson, Pittsburgh, USA," Kunstmuseum Zürich, Switzerland

February 2–March 7, 1959, "An Exhibition of 75 Collages by Schwitters," Sidney Janis Gallery, New York, NY (cat. no. 2, as "Merzbild 13A")

September 29–October 31, 1953, "Dada 1916–1923," Sidney Janis Gallery, New York, NY

November 25–December 16, 1952, "Collage, Painting, Relief and Sculpture by Kurt Schwitters," The Arts Club of Chicago, Chicago, IL

October 13–November 8, 1952, "Kurt Schwitters: Merzbild, Merzrelief, Merzkonstruction (An Exhibition of Collage, Painting, Relief and Sculpture by Schwitters)," Sidney Janis Gallery, New York, NY (cat. no. 53, as "Merz 13A")

Possible Title Merzbild K8

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"Merzbild 13A | Collections Online." Collections Online. Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, Indiana University, 2024.