Kurt Schwitters

Picture of Spatial Growths - Picture with Two Small Dogs


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Kurt Schwitters 1887–1948
Original title
Bild mit Raumgewächsen-Bild mit 2 kleinen Hunden
Oil paint, wood, paper, cardboard and china on board
Frame: 1155 × 863 × 131 mm
support: 970 × 690 × 110 mm
Purchased 1984

Display caption

Schwitters started this assemblage of discarded rubbish and printed ephemera in Germany in 1920. Seventeen years later he brought it with him to Norway, having escaped from Nazi Germany. There he added Norwegian material: theatre tickets, receipts, newspaper cuttings, scraps of lace, and a box with two china dogs. The different layers of collage reflect the artist’s journey into exile.

Gallery label, January 2016

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Catalogue entry

Kurt Schwitters 1887-1948

T03863 Picture of Spatial Growths - Picture with Two Small Dogs 1920 and 1939

Oil paint, wood, paper, cardboard and china on board 970 x 690 (38 1/8 x 27 1/8)
Inscribed 'Kurt Schwitters | 24.55.1939 | Bild mit 2 kleinen | Hunden (altes Bild neu | bearbeitet)' on label t.r. and 'Bild | mit Raumgewächsen | K, Schwitters | 1920' on back of insert box
Purchased from Marlborough Fine Art (Grant-in-Aid) 1984
Prov: By descent to the artist's son Ernst Schwitters, by whom sold to Lord's Gallery 1958, from whom purchased by Marlborough Fine Art 1964
Exh: Hannoversche Sezession, Kestner-Gesellschaft, Hanover 1925 (129 in earlier state); Kurt Schwitters 1887-1948, Lord's Gallery, Oct.-Nov. 1958 (4 as 'Bild mit Raumgewächsen'); Kurt Schwitters 1887-1948, AC tour, Arts Council Gallery, Cambridge, Nov.-Dec. 1958, Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, Swansea, Jan. 1960, Graves Art Gallery, Sheffield, Jan.-Feb. 1960, Museum and Art Gallery, Leicester, Feb.-March 1960, Herbert Temporary Art Gallery, Coventry, March-April 1960, University Print Room, Glasgow, April-May 1960 (6 as 'Picture with Space-Growth'); Kurt Schwitters, Konstnärshuset, Stockholm 1962 (39); Schwitters, Marlborough Fine Art, March-April 1963 (44, repr., as 'Bild mit Raumgewächsen 1920 Bild mit 2 Kleinen Hunden 1939'); Kurt Schwitters 1887-1948, Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne, Oct.-Nov. 1963 (44, repr., as 'Bild mit Raumewächsen 1920 | Bild mit 2 Kleinen Hunden 1939'); Kurt Schwitters, Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam, Jan.-March 1964 (44, repr., as 'Bild mit Raumgewächsen 1920 Bild mit Zwei Kleinen Hunden 1939'); Kurt Schwitters, Marlborough Galleria d'Arte, Rome 1964 (16); Kurt Schwitters, Städtische Kunsthalle, Düsseldorf, Jan.- March 1971, Akademie der Künste, Berlin, March-April 1975, Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart, May-July 1975, Kunsthalle, Basle, July-Sept. 1971 (51 as 'Bild mit Raumgewächsen. Bild mit zwei Kleinen Hunden'); Kurt Schwitters, Marlborough Fine Art, Oct. 1972-Jan. 1973 (16 repr. in col., as 'Bild mit Raumgewachsen - Bild mit 2 Kleinen Hunden'); Kurt Schwitters in Exile: The Late Work 1937-48, Marlborough Fine Art, Oct. 1985 (1, repr. in col.); Kurt Schwitters, Fundación Juan March, Madrid, Sept.-Dec. 1982 (35, repr. in col., as 'Cuadro con ramificaciones espaciales - Cuadro con 2 perros pequeños'); Kurt Schwitters, Museum of Modern Art, Seibu Takanawa, July-Oct. 1983, Seibu Museum of Art, Tokyo, Oct.-Nov. 1983, Seibu Hall, Seibu Department Stores, Otsu Store, Otsu, Jan. 1984 (25, repr. in col., as 'Bild mit Raumgewächsen - Bild mit 2 Kleinen Hunden'); Kurt Schwitters, Museum of Modern Art, New York, June-Oct. 1985 (p.270), Tate Gallery, Nov. 1985-Jan. 1986 (74), Sprengel Museum Hanover, Feb.-April 1986 (92, repr. in col., as 'Bild mit Raumgewächsen - Bild mit 2 Kleinen Hunden')
Lit: Werner Schmalenbach, Kurt Schwitters, 1970, p.110; Jane Bell, 'Kurt Schwitters', Arts Magazine, vol.47, April 1973, p.80, repr. as 'Picture with House Plants -Picture with Two Dogs'; 'Twentieth Century Acquisitions at the Tate Gallery', Burlington Magazine, vol.126, Dec. 1984, p.810, pl.99; John Elderfield, Kurt Schwitters, 1985, p.205, pl.270; Dietmar Elger, 'Entwicklungen und Kontinuitäten: Das Prinzip MERZ im Späten Werke' in Kurt Schwitters: Die Späten Werke, exh.cat., Museum Ludwig, Cologne 1985, p.16 repr.; Jan van der Marek, 'The Modernist Schwitters', Art in America, vol.73, Oct. 1985, p.127

According to Elderfield, T03863 was one of several pictures Schwitters was able to have brought to Lysaker, Norway, where he lived from 1937 to 1940, some time during the spring of 1938. Although the work had been completed by 1920, he reworked is extensively in late 1939, adding among other things the two small china dogs which gave the work its extended title (see below). In a letter to the compiler dated 6 June 1988 Ernst Schwitters, through Gilbert Lloyd, wrote that 'the pictures could not be more or less smuggled out [of Germany] until late 1939 [a difference in dating from Elderfield]. They were not properly packed and so were slightly damaged on arrival. Schwitters worked over all the works in the Autumn and Winter of 1939' (unless indicated, all other quotations from Ernst Schwitters come from this letter).

In November 1939 (as shown by the inscription in its upper right corner), Schwitters reworked it [i.e. T03963], renaming it Bild mit 2 kleinen Hunden (Picture with 2 Small Dogs) , after the miniature dogs that can be seen in the box to the left of the 1939 inscription. The swirling, 'painterly' effect of the revisions, and particularly the way in which materials are blended to produce a single dominant arc-shape, returns in some respects to the a priori compositional approach of the early Merzbilder. The identities of materials are submitted to large compositional movements. Unlike the early Merzbilder, Bild mit 2 kleinen Hunden is free from Futuro-Expressionist geometry and from the kind of contrapuntal, all-over balances that earlier opposed such dominant compositional movements (Elderfield 1985, p.201).

T03863 is one of the larger 'Merzpictures' Schwitters worked on, although a number of other works related to it are also of similar dimensions. These include Merzpicture 32A The Cherry Picture 1921 (Museum of Modern Art, New York, repr. Elderfield 1985, col. pl.VIII), Merzpicture 9B The Great Ich Picture 1919 (Ludwig Collection, repr. ibid., pl.58) and Merzpicture 31B Radiating World 1920 (The Phillips Collection, Washington D.C., repr. ibid., pl.66). Most of the surface of the image is covered with many layers of printed ephemera, described more fully below.

There are also a number of other elements not made of paper. These include, bottom left, some circular wooden and cardboard discs, as well as the section of a circular disc in the centre of the image and set at a right angle to the picture plane. A wooden knob is as the top right. Just beneath it, the artist cut through the board, which is the basis of the assemblage, and inserted a cardboard box. This he attached to the stretcher behind the board. It contains two small china dogs along with a newspaper cutting: the dogs gave the work its revised title in 1939 when Schwitters returned to it and finished it.

As the bottom left-hand corner, Schwitters glued on, then overpainted, some scraps of lace. He used a number of loose-weave materials, fabrics as well as wire, in works around 1920, although he specifically used lace in the following works of the period: Merzpicture Horsefat c.1919 (private collection, repr. Elderfield 1985, col.pl.III), Merzpicture The Cherry Picture 1925 (see above) and Mz 169 Forms in Space 1920 (Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf, repr. ibid., col.pl.XI ).

T03863 is a work originally made in 1920 and given the title 'Picture with Spatial Growths'. The colours visible under the reworking of 1939, mainly blues and greens, as well as the circular elements, relate it to the concerns being explored in other assemblages and collages of the period, including Merzpicture The Cherry Picture and Revolving 1919 (Museum of Modern Art, New York, repr. Elderfield 1985, col.pl.V).

T03863 is not the only work by Schwitters to have been reworked or retitled by the artist, as Elderfield explains:

Two 1920 pictures Bild mit Raumgewächsen (Picture with Spatial Growths) and Merzbild 29A, Bild mit Drehrad (Picture with Flywheel), were later judged to be unsatisfactory, and Schwitters reworked them in the 1930s, changing the title of the former to Bild mit 2 kleinen Hunden (Picture with 2 Small Dogs). Both are now very impressive, but it is difficult to be sure what he added later. Bild mit Drehrad seems to retain more of its original state, but it is nevertheless anomalous among the early works in its horizontal format and in its totally explicit machinist iconography (Elderfield 1985, p.68).

Schmalenbach (p.110) makes a distinction between the collages made around 1919-20 and the Merz-pictures that include three-dimensional found elements, calling the latter assemblages. As 'Picture with Spatial Growths', T03863 falls into the category of assemblage. When the original picture was made Schwitters used snippets of paper with German texts printed on them, such as the page of a book visible under the translucent paper (added later) in the top right-hand corner, and still visible in other areas, discussed below.

When Schwitters reworked the picture in 1939, he added many pieces of printed and other ephemera and concealed most of the original composition, excepting the areas discussed below. The printed ephemera added in 1939 is all in Norwegian. It consists of theatre and concert tickets, receipts, chits, stubs, chocolate wrappers, blotting paper, newspaper cutting, translucent packing tissue, black paper and transparent foil, among other things. Two dated pieces of paper point towards material being collected over the previous years (an envelope, bottom centre, is postmarked April 1937, a theatre ticket to the National Theatre is dated August 1938). Ernst Schwitters writes of the envelope that 'neither the addresses nor the P.O. box number were known to Kurt or Ernst Schwitters: this envelope was simply used as a compositional device'. Ernst Schwitters was also unable to identify the man in the photograph, top centre.

While is is extremely difficult to separate those elements of the work which were added later from those beneath which formed the original composition, this can be established in a number of areas. The bottom left-hand and top right-hand corners of T03863 are the principal areas Schwitters left uncovered when he reworked the picture in 1939. This can be established because the snippets of paper bear inscriptions in German and are pasted over other pictorial elements, such as the wooden disc (bottom left) and the cardboard in both corners.

Ernst Schwitters writes that the black frame integral to the work and which was formerly blue-green, was overpainted by the artist when he worked T03863. A label on the back of the work dating from 1920 announces an exhibition in Dortmund in support of those suffering from the coal shortages. Ernst Schwitters relates that he

does not know if Kurt Schwitters was involved in the Kohlennot exhibition in 1920. Due to the general hostility about Schwitters' art as the time, it is extremely unlikely that he would have been invited to show any work in that exhibition. As for many items stuck on the back of Kurt Schwitters' pictures, this was more an expression of irony of Dadaism.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, pp.265-8

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