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walter spiesWalter Spies was born September 15, 1895 in Moscow as the son of a German diplomat.

He grew up in an intellectual and art-minded environment. As a child he already had a great interest in nature, music, dance and painting. He spoke several languages and started studying in Dresden, after World War 1, he met artists Oskar Kokoschka and Otto Dix. He admired the works of Marc Chagall and Paul Klee and discussed music with composers like Paul Hindemith and Arthur Schnabel.

In the summer of 1919 he presented his first paintings and got immediate recognition. He moved to Berlin to devote himself to film and music. To escape the hectic Berlin he often retreated to the island of Sylt. In 1923 he decided to leave Europe and sailed to Java, travel to Bandung and later to Yogyakarta. He easily learned to speak Malay and Javanese. Walter Spies was touched by the gamelan music and court dances. He was asked by the sultan of Yogyakarta to lead the Keraton's European Orchestra. He immediately moved to the Keraton. This way he could study the gamelan music and invented a way to transcribe the gamelan music to paper.

In 1925 he visited Bali and was attracted at once. In 1927 he left the sultan's palace and moved to Bali permanently. He had a great influence on the local painters like Soberat or Anak Agung Gede Meregeg and many others.

In 1926 German movie-makers documented the Balinese arts. The success of these movies around the world attracted many other artists, actors and writer to Bali. Among which Noel Coward, Charlie Chaplin, Vicky Baum, Miguel Covarrubias, even Margaret Mead. Walter Spies worked together with Baron Viktor von Plessen to create the movie "Island of demons" which was a great influence for the way the world looked at Balinese art and culture.

The Dutch government, anxious to preserve the western moral standards, was reluctant to see the coming and going of all these artists and their free and loose moral lifestyles. Walter Spies was arrested, for so-called, indecent behavior and set to prison from December 1938 until September 1939.

World War II, when Germany invaded Holland. All Germans in Bali incl. Walter Spies, were arrested by the Dutch-Indies government and put in prison camps in Sumatra. All German prisoners were set on a transport from Sumatra to Ceylon.

Walter Spies was on of the prisoners on the ship Van Imhoff that set sail to Ceylon January 18, 1942. A day later, the ship was hit by a Japanese torpedo boat. The Dutch crew abandoned ship but the captain was afraid to set the German prisoners free without orders. The result was that most of the German prisoners, including Walter Spies, drowned in the slowly sinking ship.

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Auctions & Sales
Walter Spies - Bauern, Erntedankfest ( orig. Title : “Petani / Upacara Sehabis Panen” )
for sale: Adrien Jean Le Mayeur De Merpres [Belgian Painter, 1880-1958]
I Gusti Nyoman Lempad
Ida Bagus Made Togog
 
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walter spies house gallery

 

The Video below is a short scene with "Karina" from the mini film Mijn Man by Paolo Alberton
This documentary is about Karina and her relationship with Walter Spies, a German artist who influenced Indonesian art in the 20’s. Karina was 6, sitting on Walter’s lap, when she saw him drawing “The Seated Man”. This artwork brings fascinating memories of a childhood in java and her relationship with other male figures in her life. But Karina is now 80 and decides it’s time to let go and sell this picture. Source
 
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