The History of the Archive and Catalogue raisonné

Sprengel Museum HannoverSprengel Museum Hannover
Increased interest in Kurt Schwitters’ work since the mid-1950s resulted in numerous exhibitions in museums and galleries world-wide. His son, Ernst Schwitters, was often asked to loan large numbers of works from his father’s estate for exhibitions. To administer this considerable estate, he began to catalogue the photographs and write down all pertinent information about each work on index cards. He registered each work of art with a `preliminary oeuvre number` and a provisional number in the oeuvre on the back of many pieces. Moreover, Ernst Schwitters’ knowledge as an expert in the field needed to increase along with the rise in demand on the art market for Kurt Schwitters’ works. Although he was not trained in the arts (he worked as a photographer), he had considerable knowledge to share with regard to his father’s work.

The index of works not only helped to keep track of the estate; it was also of assistance in providing advice on Ernst Schwitters’ work, i.e. the basis on which to eventually publish a catalogue raisonné. Discussions were already held in the 1970s with potential publishers. Yet the scope of this undertaking, due to the expansiveness of his oeuvre, continually delayed the publication. When Ernst Schwitters donated his index of works to the Sprengel Museum Hannover in the summer of 1993, he did so under the condition that the museum continue his work and then, finally, print a catalogue raisonné.

In 1993, approximately 2,000 index cards and some 1,700 photographs were handed over to the Sprengel Museum Hannover for the archive. Since then, the amount of works identified as having been realised by Schwitters has nearly doubled; there are now 4,000 works of art documented by the Kurt Schwitters Archive at the Sprengel Museum Hannover. A number of the works recently added to the archive are representational paintings and drawings from the artist’s estate. These were not listed in Ernst Schwitters’ index and were not, therefore, intended to be included in his index of works. A significant quantity of these works, including many long-considered missing, could be accounted for through detailed research in reference literature as well as in public and private collections, in galleries and through art auction houses. The scope of Schwitters’ oeuvre has been estimated at 8,000 works of art, comprising approx. 2,500 abstract and 2,000 representational 2-dimensional works as well as 300 sculptures.
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