Kurt Schwitters

Untitled (Black and Blue)


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Kurt Schwitters 1887–1948
Original title
Ohne Titel (Schwarz und Blau)
Graphite and crayon on paper
Support: 116 × 86 mm
Accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to Tate 2007


Untitled (Black and Blue) is a small abstract drawing by the German artist Kurt Schwitters. It consists of lines and curved marks made in graphite and blue crayon on a background of brown paper. A series of six rhythmic, repeating vertical lines run across bottom half of the work, becoming fainter as they progress from left to right, and a corresponding row of double curves runs across its upper half. These shapes are mostly rendered in blue crayon, but on several occasions Schwitters has added pencil over and among the blue forms. As well as strengthening elements of the composition, this dark pencil contrasts with, and to some extent disrupts, the rhythm of the blue crayon forms. However, the overall impression is one of curvaceous movement and flowing shapes.

Schwitters made Untitled (Black and Blue) in 1923 during a summer holiday in Göhring on the German island of Rügen. Both the graphite pencil and the blue crayon have been applied quite freely, using loose strokes, and Schwitters has signed the work ‘KS / 23’ in blue in the bottom-right corner. Although the work is untitled, the addition of the bracketed description in the title draws the attention to the work’s dominant formal qualities.

Untitled (Black and Blue) is an early abstract drawing belonging to a series of approximately five similar drawings, all produced around 1923, although this work is the only drawing in the series that contains two colours. Another work that is likely to be from the same series is Ohne Titel (Steigendes Blau) (Untitled (Ascending Blue)) 1923–5 (Kurt und Ernst Schwitters Stiftung, Hanover), which is of a similar size and also employs blue crayon in an abstract design. Around this time Schwitters’s work had begun to be influenced by geometric and constructivist styles, and his participation in groups such as Cercle et Carré (Circle and Square) in Paris and his friendship with Dutch De Stijl artists including Theo van Doesburg provided opportunities to exchange ideas about abstraction. These infused many of Schwitters’s drawings from the late 1910s onwards, such as Z 105 Portals of Houses 1918 (Tate T12390), with its angled planes and curved arches. Curator Isabel Schulz has written of Schwitters’s work of this period: ‘his art expresses the search for clear-cut principles of design and an “elementary kind of art”. In parts often reminiscent of other artists’ work, it correspondingly experiments with various characteristics of constructivism and organic forms’ (Schulz 2011, accessed 14 August 2015). The curved and repeating forms of Untitled, along with its limited colour scheme, carry this simplicity of design as well as an experimentation with natural shapes.

When he made Untitled (Black and Blue), Schwitters’s collage work was being displayed alongside that of other constructivist artists such as El Lissitzky and Oskar Schlemmer. Yet while Schwitters is best known for his post-1918 collages, the significance of his drawings to wider practice has recently been recognised. Indeed, studies of this element of Schwitters’s practice, such as Schulz’s catalogue for a large-scale exhibition of his drawings at the Kunstmuseum Bern in 2011, regard them as pivotal to Schwitters’s ongoing explorations of the medium of collage (see Isabel Schulz (ed.), ‘Anna Blume and I’: Drawings by Kurt Schwitters, exhibition catalogue, Kunstmuseum Bern, Bern 2011).

Further reading
John Elderfield, Kurt Schwitters, London 1985.
Michael White, ‘Merzzeichnung: Typology and Typography’, Tate Papers, no.14, 1 October 2010, http://www.tate.org.uk/research/publications/tate-papers/merzzeichnung-typology-and-typography, accessed 12 August 2015.
Isabel Schulz, ‘Anna Blume and I’: Drawings by Kurt Schwitters, exhibition leaflet, Kunstmuseum Bern, Bern 2011, http://www.kunstmuseumbern.ch, accessed 14 August 2015.

Louise Hughes
August 2015

Supported by Christie’s.

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Display caption

The rough pencil hatching in this drawing initially distracts from the rhythmic repetition of the six blue crayon forms. Schwitters was fascinated by the relationship between chance and order. Here, the contrast between the more random pencil marks and the carefully defined blue forms can be seen as an exploration of that relationship.

Gallery label, August 2004

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