Project : Kurt Schwitters in England


As of April 2009, there is now a dedicated MerzBarn website that focuses on the Elterwater MerzBarn and Kurt Schwitters in England.

link to


KS08 Kurt Schwitters Herbst-Schule: 3 - 5 October 2008

KS07 Kurt Schwitters Herbst-Schule : 24 - 30 September 2007

Rural Cultural Summit : 23 May 2006

Merzbarn: Kurt Schwitters in England : 17 -19 September 1999



Kurt Schwitters (seated, facing camera) with Edith Thomas and Bill Pierce Senion, Cylinders 1947

Kurt Schwitters, the pioneering German Dada artist, arrived in England in 1940, and eventually settled in Ambleside in the Lake District.  Though impoverished by his flight from the Nazis he made many friends, one of them landscape artist Harry Pierce, who happened to own an empty barn on his estate at Cylinders, just outside Little Langdale.

There Schwitters began to construct his greatest ‘lifework’, known as the Merzbarn, using found materials and a construction technique invented for his two earlier ‘Merz’ installations, one at his home in Hanover, the other in Norway, neither of which survived the war.  Unfinished at the time of Schwitters’ death in 1948, the Merzbarn installation survived until the 1960s, when Richard Hamilton and others arranged for it to be removed for re-erection at the Hatton Gallery in Newcastle.  

Schwitters’ installations are now recognised as key works in the development of 20th century art.  The Sprengel Museum in Germany houses a comprehensive archive of the artist’s paintings and sculptures, and a reconstruction of the lost Hanover Merzbau.  In the Lake District however there is still no memorial to Schwitters beyond a grave left empty when the body was reclaimed for burial in Germany.  

A proper memorial to the memory of the time Schwitters lived in England, during which some of his finest works were created, is long overdue.  A start was made in 1999 with the ArtBarns: After Kurt Schwitters artists’ projects in Lancashire, and the associated international conference in Ambleside.  



Following the Art Barns: After Kurt Schwitters artists’ projects in Lancashire, and the associated international conference in Ambleside, September 1999, a group of local community representatives, scholars, curators and artists got together to set up an interim working group in the artist’s name (and eventually to establish a Trust), and to further celebrate and document the life and work of Kurt Schwitters in England.

Events organised by the working group since then have begun to raise the profile of the artist in Britain and internationally.  Each year, in October,  the working group organises a week-end public seminar and an open day at the site of the MerzBarn in Elterwater.  Every two years the group aims to hold a major event - a conference or a Kurt Schwitters Summer School - focusing interest on a particular aspect of the artist’s work and life in England.  Events in 2004  included the international MERZ-LAND Conference held at Tate Britain in July, and an Open Day in Elterwater in October, with an evening lecture at Chapel Stile Village hall by Mel Gooding, the London-based writer and curator.

Preserving the Merz Barn

Future plans include the possible acquisition of the Cylinders Estate site of the original Merz Barn at Elterwater, near Ambleside in the Lake District.  It is hoped to raise funding for this purpose through foundations, private sponsorship, the Arts Council and the HLF (Heritage Lottery Fund), to purchase the site and preserve the Merz Barn building, to make it more widely accessible to the general public and for future generations.  On a nearby site it is also hoped to establish a dedicated Merz Barn and Kurt Schwitters in England Study Centre, with an electronic archive and photographic display documenting the history of the Merz Barn, with links to important international Schwitters archives and public collections in London, Hanover and New York.  The committee is working on this proposal in partnership with the Armitt Library, Ambleside.

Image of the Merzbarn Office

Merzbarn Office, Ambleside 1999.  Part of the ArtBarns - After Kurt Schwitters project

Aims of the Kurt Schwitters in England Trust

The Kurt Schwitters in England working group aims eventually to set itself up as a Charitable Trust, and to promote public understanding of the work of Kurt Schwitters through exhibitions, conferences, and educational and public events.  The group also plans to commission new publications about different aspects of Schwitters’ life and work in England, including Merz Barn, an anthology of research and writing about the Elterwater Merz Barn;  a reprint of the Gaberbocchus publication, ‘Kurt Schwitters in England’, is also under consideration.

Other ideas being explored by the group are: 
  1. Establishment of an international Kurt Schwitters Fellowship, as a complement to the one in Germany;  possibly an exchange of artists between the Hanover region and the North of England, this could also be offered to artists of international status who like Schwitters are refugees from their home countries;

  2. An international Kurt Schwitters Summer School, to be held in the Lake District near Ambleside or at Elterwater every two years.


Merzbarn_ResearchProposal.pdf (44Kb)



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