Kurt Hermann Eduard Karl Julius Schwitters was a German painter who was born in Hanover, Germany.
Schwitters worked in several genres and media, including Dada, Constructivism, Surrealism, poetry, sound, painting, sculpture, graphic design, typography, and what came to be known as installation art. He is most famous for his collages, called Merz Pictures.
Kurt Schwitters was born on 20 June 1887, at No.2 Rumannstraße, Hanover, the only child of Edward Schwitters and his wife Henriette (née Beckemeyer). His parents were proprietors of a ladies' clothes shop. They sold the business in 1898, using the money to buy five properties in Hanover which they rented out, allowing the family to live off the income for the rest of Schwitters' life in Germany. In 1901 the family moved to Waldstraße (later Waldhausenstraße) 5, future site of the Merzbau. The same year, Schwitters suffered his first epileptic seizure, a condition that would exempt him from military service in World War I until the last stages of the conflict, when conscription began to be applied to a far wider section of the population.
After studying art at the Dresden Academy alongside Otto Dix and George Grosz, (although Schwitters seems to have been unaware of their work, or indeed of contemporary Dresden artists Die Brücke), 1909–15, Schwitters returned to Hanover and started his artistic career as a post-impressionist. In 1911 he took part in his first exhibition, in Hanover. As the First World War progressed his work became darker, gradually developing a distinctive expressionist tone.
Schwitters spent the last one and half years of the war working as a technical draftsman in a factory just outside Hanover. He was drafted into the 73rd Hanoverian Regiment in March 1917, but exempted as unfit in June of the same year. By his own account, his time as a draftsman influenced his later work, using machines as metaphors of human activity.
"In the war [at the machine factory at Wülfen] I discovered my love for the wheel and recognized that machines are abstractions of the human spirit."
He married his cousin Helma Fischer on 5 October 1915. Their first son, Gerd, died within a week of birth, 9 September 1916; their second, Ernst, was born on 16 November 1918, and was to remain close to his father for the rest of his life, up to and including a shared exile in Britain together.
In 1918, his art was to change dramatically as a direct consequence of Germany's economic, political, and military collapse at the end of the First World War.
"In the war, things were in terrible turmoil. What I had learned at the academy was of no use to me and the useful new ideas were still unready.... Everything had broken down and new things had to be made out of the fragments; and this is Merz. It was like a revolution within me, not as it was, but as it should have been."