Executed circa 1945, Ohne Titel (Gute Laune) dates from the period when Kurt Schwitters was living with Edith Thomas, known as ‘Wantee’, in Barnes, London, and attempting to integrate himself with the avant-garde of the city during the harsh final years of the Second World War. In December 1944, Schwitters held his sole one-man show in England, at the Modern Art Gallery. At this exhibition, Herbert Read announced Schwitters as ‘the supreme master of the collage’, pointing out that the artist had devised a practice of ‘making art out of anything’ by ‘taking up the stones which the builders had rejected and making something of them’. ‘I doubt,’ Read continued, ‘that Schwitters would like to be called a mystic, but there is nevertheless in his whole attitude to art a deep protest against the chromium-plated conception of modernism. The bourgeois love slickness and polish: Schwitters hates them. He leaves the edges rough, his surfaces uneven’ (H. Read, ‘Kurt Schwitters’, Paintings and Sculptures of Kurt Schwitters, The Founder of Dadaism and “Merz", London, 1944, n.p.).
Gute Laune combines large areas of delicately painted geometric shapes with collage elements – a juxtaposition of real objects and soft geometric ones. During his late period, Schwitters took a growing interest in the very substance of paint, which lends the work a painterly and tactile physicality. This is seen in the present lot in the emphasis on surface and on the various textures the painted areas display, alongside the collage element that finely merges with the oil paint, providing an intrinsic cohesion to the whole. Both the title and the jovial palette of Gute Laune give a lightness and delicacy to the painting. This cheerfulness can very well be seen as reflecting the artist’s new-found freedom and success after many years as persecuted fugitive. It is clear that here Schwitters, with the confidence and self-assurance of a mature artist, draws upon his broad technical skills and multitude of artistic expressions, to create an artwork which possesses the ‘intensification of expression’ that he himself famously predicted a few years earlier in a letter to his wife Helma.