Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948) Cigar 7 x 5 3/4 in (17.8 x 14.6 cm) (Executed in 1947)

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Lot 27
Kurt Schwitters
Cigar 7 x 5 3/4 in (17.8 x 14.6 cm)

Sold for US$ 100,000 inc. premium

Impressionist & Modern Art

15 May 2018, 17:00 EDT

New York

Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948)
signed and dated 'Kurt Schwitters 1947' (lower left)
collage on paper
7 x 5 3/4 in (17.8 x 14.6 cm)
Executed in 1947


  • Provenance
    Edith Thomas, London, 1948-1952 (acquired from the artist in 1948).
    Sidney Janis Gallery, New York, (acquired from the above in 1952, inv. no. 3444).
    Senator S.I. Hayakawa, Mill Valley (acquired from the above in 1954).
    Private collection, San Francisco (by descent from the above and sold; Bonhams & Butterfields, 19 November 2007, lot 1038).
    Private collection, California (acquired at the above sale by the present owner).

    New York, Sidney Janis Gallery & Chicago, Arts Club of Chicago, Exhibition of Collage, Painting, Relief & Sculpture by Schwitters, October - December 1952, no. 45.

    K. Orchard & I. Schulz, Kurt Schwitters, Catalogue raisonné, 1937 - 1948, vol. III, Hannover, 2006, no. 3646, p. 662.

    Cigar was executed in 1947, approximately one year before the artist's death at the age of 60 in early 1948. Schwitters' last years were marked by tremendous productivity and his return to the medium of collage. Schwitters temporarily abandoned collage during his exile in Norway (1937-40), where the light and landscape inspired his return to oil paints, but by the time the present work was executed, Schwitters embraced the medium again and was working with the Museum of Modern Art in New York on an exhibition of his collages. It was also in 1947 that the artist started to work on his third and final manifestation of the Merz constructions, the Merz Barn in Elterwater.

    Cigar is a Merz-collage from Schwitters' last years living as an exile in England. Forced to flee Nazi Germany in 1937 and then Norway in 1940, Kurt Schwitters moved to London following his release from the Hutchinson Internment Camp. Schwitters first visited the Lake District, a mountainous region in North West England in 1942, and moved there permanently in 1945 with his companion Edith Thomas ('Wantee'), to whom the present work was bequeathed. While living in the Lake District, he frequently visited and exhibited in London, but did not sell any of the collages he created during this time, leaving them all to Wantee or his son Ernst upon his death.

    Created in the aftermath of the First World War, Merz was Schwitters' artistic concept of a universal forging of relationships, "preferably between all the things in the world" (K. Orchard & I. Schulz, op. cit, p. 18). The name is said to have derived from a scrap of paper printed with 'Commerz' from the Commerz Bank, but where only 'merz' was visible. The seemingly random and nonsensical title pleased the artist in its sound, reflecting the influence of the Dada movement at the time. Merz embraced painting, drawing, sculpture, poetry and performance in a kind of Gesamtkunstwerk, a synthesis encapsulated by the collage technique whereby disparate fragments are juxtaposed to rebuild a new whole:

    "I felt myself freed and had to shout my jubilation out to the world. Out of parsimony I took whatever I found to do this, because we were now a poor country. One can even shout out through refuse, and this is what I did, nailing and gluing it together. I called it 'Merz,' it was a prayer about the victorious end of the war, victorious as once again peace had won in the end; everything had broken down in any case and new things had to be made out of fragments: and this is Merz. I painted, nailed, glued, composed poems, and experienced the world in Berlin" (Kurt Schwitters, 1930, quoted in W. Schmalenbach, Kurt Schwitters, New York, 1967, p. 96).

    Executed as part of the last series of Merz collages, the present work recalls the artist's collages from the 1920s. Summarizing the historic transformation of this Merz series, Schwitters stated: "I can see from the work I am doing now, that in my old age I will be able to go on developing Merz. After my death it will be possible to distinguish 4 periods in my Merz works: the Sturm and Drang of the first works – in a sense revolutionary in the art world – then the dry, more scientific search for the new possibilities and the laws of the composition and materials, then the brilliant game with skills gained, that is to say, the present stage, and ultimately the utilization of acquired strengths in the intensification of expression. I will have achieved that in around ten years"' (Kurt Schwitters, 'Letter to Helma Schwitters', 23 December 1939, quoted in Schwitters in Britain, (exhibition catalogue), Tate, London, 2013, p. 56).

    Cigar is composed of elements from Schwitters' immediate surroundings and previous travel, forming a personal diary for the artist. His Lake District residence is denoted by the envelope on which we see a partial address (possibly 2 Gale Crescent in Ambleside where Schwitters lived from 1945 to February 1946), while a London bus timetable and label from a King's Road framer illustrate Schwitters' frequent trips to the capital. The corner of the eponymous cigar advert provides a burst of color, and a counterpoint to the vivid blue of the George VI stamp on the left and geometric shard of bold red material on the right. Everyday life is illustrated in magazine excerpts, photographic material and general detritus in a move which anticipates Pop Art, but contrasts sharply with Schwitters' reminders of the wider political picture: our eye is drawn to a cutting from a newspaper article about the Blitz, in which Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Gibbs and their three daughters bravely faced the worst horrors of the Luftwaffe. Meanwhile, two train tickets from Stabekk to Skarpsno serve to remind us of the artist's recent exile in Norway following his persecution by the Gestapo.

    Cigar echoes the dynamism of the artist's multi-layered works of the twenties, formed of densely layered materials with contrasting perforations, soft creases and crisply snipped corners. Strong verticals are offset by the sudden curve of a watermark or stamp, or broken up by a deliberately placed sliver of card in a virtuoso mastery of the collage technique. Links are formed between the everyday, personal and political, local and global, in a perfect illustration of Schwitters' Merz concept.

    The present work is distinguished by important early provenance. The first owner of Cigar was Edith 'Wantee' Thomas, Schwitters' beloved companion with whom he spent the last decade of his life. Edith inherited many of Schwitters' most important works, including Cigar, and managed the artist's estate. The second private owner of Cigar was S.I. Hayakawa, an esteemed academician and United States Senator who spearheaded the treaty giving Panama ultimate control of the Panama Canal.
Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948) Cigar 7 x 5 3/4 in (17.8 x 14.6 cm) (Executed in 1947)
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