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Walter Spies

 

Spies
Balinese legend, undated - oil on canvas

Walter 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, at that time the centre for the arts in Europe where, after WW 1, he met artists like Oskar Kokoschka and Otto Dix. He admired the works of 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 reckognision. He moved to Berlin to devote himself to film and musical. To escape hectic Berlin he often retreated to the island of Sylt. In 1923 he decided to escape Europe and sailed to Java.

He travel to Bandung, and later to Yogyakarta. He easily learned to speak Melayu and Javanese. He was touched by the gamelan music and court dances. He was asked by the sultan of Yogya to lead the keraton's European orchestra. He immediately moved to the keraton. This way he could study the gamelan music and even invented a way to transcribe the gamelan music to paper.

In 1925 he visited Bali and was attracted at once, so 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, Covarrubias, even Margaret Mead.

Spies worked together with von Plessen to create the movie "Island of demons" which was of great influence for the way the world looked at Balinese art and culture.

The Dutch government, anxcious 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. Spies was arrested for so-called indecent behaviour and set to prison from december 1938 until september 1939. But Spies continued and, under the influence of dr. Lieftinck of the zoological museum, he started observing and drawing insects and marine-fauna.

World War II started and Germany invaded Holland. Promptly all germans, also Spies, were arrested by the Dutch-Indies government and put in prison camps in Sumatra. Due to the Japanese threat in Indonesia, all german prisoners were set on a transport from Sumatra to Ceylon. Spies was also a passenger on the ship Van Imhoff that set sail to Ceylon January 18, 1942.

One day later, the ship was hit by a bomb and started sinking. 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, Spies included, drowned in the slowly sinking ship.


Walter Spies

Walter Spies

Walter Spies


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