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Kurt Schwitters & the “Merzbarn”

Written by Leah Dacre on

Sign that reads Kurt Schwitters Merzbarn

Kurt Hermann Eduard Karl Julius Schwitters was a German artist born in Hanover 20th June 1887.

A stone wall, fields and hills

Schwitters worked in several genres and media, including Dadaism, Constructivism, Surrealism, poetry, sound, painting, sculpture, graphic design, typography and what came to be installation art. He is most famous for his collages, called Merz Pictures.

Schwitters first visited the Lake District in 1942 whilst on holiday with his wife and moved here permanently in 1945 living in Ambleside.

In 1947 Schitters decided to recreate an earlier work the Merzbau and found a suitable location in a barn at Cylinders farm Elterwater. Lack of income had forced him to paint portraits and popularist landscapes suitable for locals and tourists although he received a £1000 fellowship to be transferred to him via the Museum of Modern art in New York to enable him to repair or recreate his previous Merz constructions which he had been working on previously in Germany and Norway. Instead he used it for the “Merzbarn” in Elterwater which he worked on daily traveling from Ambleside.

Pathway through the woods

On 7 January 1948 he was granted British citizenship however the following day he died from pulmonary edema and myocarditis at Kendal hospital. He was buried at St Marys Church in Ambleside on January 10. His grave was unmarked until 1966 when a stone was placed with the inscription Kurt Schwitters- creator of Merz. The stone remains despite the fact his body was disinterred and reburied in Hanover in 1970. The grave was marked with a copy of his 1929 sculpture Die Herstztzeitlose.

An entire wall of the Merzbarn was moved to the Hatton Gallery in Newcastle for safe keeping, however the shell of the barn remains in Elterwater. In 2011 the Merzbarn was reconstructed in the front courtyard of the Royal Academy in London as part of its exhibition Modern British Sculpture.

Leah Dacre

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Property & Office Assistant
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