Kurt Schwitters

(Relief in Relief)


Not on display

Kurt Schwitters 1887–1948
Oil paint on wood and plaster
Object: 495 × 413 × 102 mm
Purchased 1970

Display caption

Schwitters was associated with the irreverent dada movement in 1920s Germany. He developed idiosyncratic forms of collage that combined the discarded ephemera of everyday life such as bus tickets and labels with other materials, coining the nonsense term Merz to describe his technique.
Schwitters left Germany in the 1930s, arriving in Britain via Norway and spending over a year in internment camps before moving in 1941 to London, where he made this work. Schwitters often took months over his constructions, searching for appropriate elements.

Gallery label, September 2016

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Catalogue entry

Kurt Schwitters 1887-1948

T01259 Relief in Relief c.1942-5

Inscribed '39 Westmoreland Road' on the back, along part of the support
Oil on wood and plaster construction in painted white frame, dimensions without frame, 16 1/4 x 12 3/4 x 4 (41.3 x 32.5 x 10.2), including frame 19 1/2 x 16 1/4 x 4 (49.2 x 41.3 x 10.2)
Purchased from Mrs Edith Thomas (Grant-in-Aid) 1970
Prov: The artist's estate; Mrs Edith Thomas, London
Exh: Kurt Schwitters 1887-1948, Lord's Gallery, London, October-November 1958 (48, repr.), as 'Many Angles' c.1942-5; Kurt Schwitters 1887-1948, Arts Council touring exhibition, November 1959-May 1960 (71), untitled; Schwitters, Marlborough Fine Art, London, March-April 1963 (238), as 'Relief in relief'; Kurt Schwitters in the Lake District, Abbot Hall Art Gallery, Kendal, October-November 1964 (2), incorrectly stated to be inscribed 'K.S. 1943'; on loan to the Tate Gallery from 1966 until acquired

Edith Thomas ('Wantee') says that this Merz construction must have been made while Schwitters was living at Barnes in London, probably in 1943 or if not in 1944, though she does not have any clear recollection of it being made. Although Schwitters was happy to let people watch him while he was painting his portraits, he would not let them see his collages or constructions until they were finished, when he would bring out a group of new works for a kind of 'private view'. Some of the types of material he had been accustomed to using were unobtainable during the war - for instance, there were very few glossy magazines - but while he was living at Barnes by the river he loved to walk along the tideline and collect driftwood. He had a favourite spot for collecting driftwood which they used to visit together every day. Although his collages were usually made straight off, the constructions often took months and he had several in progress at the same time while he was waiting for a suitable piece; he usually had a specific type of piece in mind to complete his work.

She thinks that in this case Schwitters may have started with the small rectangle at the top right and then enlarged the work. It is rather unusual in containing a made-up sculptural shape (probably modelled in plaster of paris over wood) as well as found material. The white frame is certainly original. Schwitters was very poor at this period and could only afford very old frames.

Ernst Schwitters adds (letter of 10 May 1973) that the title 'Many Angles' under which this work was first exhibited in 1958 was invented by Philip Granville of the Lord's Gallery. 'It is, unfortunately, very atypical for my father's titling, and in my Oeuvre-catalogue it figures as (Relief in Relief), somewhat better, at least, but not perfect either.' It is No.998 in the oeuvre-catalogue and is assigned the date 1942-5, the period they were living at Barnes.

Published in:
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, p.677, reproduced p.677

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