Kurt Schwitters and Norway


The German painter Kurt Schwitters’s work was banned by the Nazi regime in 1937 as “degenerate art”. The same year, the artist flied to Lysaker, Norway, where he constructed a second Merzbau.

He lived in exile in Norway, a country he had visited as a tourist several times. He stayed until the Germans invaded Norway in 1940. He lived in Lysaker, but during summers he stayed on Hjerøya, outside Molde, where he built his Merz-huts and worked with collages and assemblages. He traveled frequeltly around the Norwegian west-coast to grind the bread of life.

Kurt Schwitters
Kurt Schwitters

During his stay in Norway Schwitters built one Merzbau construction, Haus am Bakken  in Lysaker, and also decorated his cottage on Hjertøya into an artwork. Haus am Bakken burned to the ground in 1951, while the remnants nif the installation in Merzhytta on Hjertøya now is preserved in Romsdalsmuseet.

120816-schwitters-in-norway-book-coverSchwitters had to flee from Norway in 1940, and the cabin was left unattended for 50 years. Unprotected the interior was interior declined rapidly from the harsh climate and ravages of time.  However, valuable items remained still when the project Kurt Schwitters and Norway started 70 years later, in 2010, and a large-scale rescue operation was launched. To best preserve what was left, the interior of Merzhytta was moved into what is called the children’s Schwitters-room.

The research project Kurt Schwitters and Norway, which started In 2010, aimed to put his art and his connection to Norway on the map, and to initiate new research. The initiative was a collaboration between Romsdalsmuseet, Henie Onstad Art Centre in Oslo and Sparebankstiftelsen DNB. Responsible for the project was mag. art. Karin Hellandsjø.
Hellandsjø has done research for many years on this unique artist’s life and work in Norway. Her book, “Ultima Thule” presents several of Schwitters texts , some of which have never been published. The book is richly illustrated.

Church at Fantoft by Kurt Schwitters
Church at Fantoft by Kurt Schwitters

In a collage on the back wall in the entrance to Merzhytta, Schwittler had placed a reproduction of a woman portrait of the Renaissance. This has over the years become almost an icon of the museum. His Hjertøy-madonna appears still intact.

The image is a reproduction of a painting by Bernard von Orley, a portrait of Margaret of Austria, from ca.1518. So it is no secret Mona Lisa, but a beautiful, sensual woman portrait which urges contemplation and will forever be associated with Kurt Schwitters and Hjertøya.

Remainings of Schwitters' merz-building at Hjertøya
Remainings of Schwitters’ merz-building at Hjertøya

After the German invasion of Norway in 1940, Schwitters escaped to Great Britain, where he was interned for over a year. He settled in London following his release, but moved to Little Langdale in the Lake District in 1945. There, helped by a stipend from the Museum of Modern Art, he began work on a third Merzbau in 1947. The project was left unfinished when Schwitters died on January 8, 1948, in Kendal, England.

Painting on plywood from Lysaker, about 1939
Painting on plywood from Lysaker, about 1939

Kurt Schwitters (1887–1948) was one of the most innovative artists of the 20th Century. His creative diversity is evident in everything from collage, sound poetry, and architecture, to sculpture, painting, and typography.

Feature image (on top) Photo of Kurt Schwitters painting at Djupvasshytta, by Ernst Schwitters

Kurt Schwitters and Norway, written by Tor Kjolberg