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Friedrich Hundertwasser was born in Vienna, Austria in 1928 as Friedrich Stowasser, the son of a Jewish mother and a Christian father. His father died when he was one year old, and he was raised by his mother. He entered the Vienna Academy of Art but left after only three months. At twenty-one he changed his name to Hundertwasser, translating the Slavic "sto" at the beginning of his name to the German "hundert".
He was eleven when the Nazis invaded Vienna but because his father had been a Christian he was allowed to go to school, but they were always afraid they would be denounced as Jews. The Hitler period left a deep emotional impact on Hundertwasser. He always carried a satchel that carried a passport, several foreign currencies, toothbrushes, toothpaste, his miniature painting set and color reproductions of his favorite paintings.
He used all kinds of material to paint on: wrapping papers, napkins, envelopes which he glued together. He painted slowly with fine bamboo brushes and used a variety of media. The titles of his pictures emerge from the thoughts and ideas he had while at work; many of the pictures have two titles which often seem unrelated. For all the luxurious quality of his colors, his work suggests melancholy and sadness and touches of scorn, sarcasm and bitterness. Hundertwasser was one of the best-known painters on the European continent, although he had gained more recognition for his architecture. He personified the modern artist: free from convention, free from a fixed frame of reference, unattached to any particular geographic location or country, wandering among the different peoples of this earth.
He kept apartments in Vienna, Paris and Venice. He lived on a remodelled barge for a good part of the year; he also spent much of his time in New Zealand. He died aboard the Queen Elizabeth II cruise ship in 2000.
Written and compiled by Jean Ershler Schatz, artist and researcher from Laguna Woods, California.
National Jewish Monthly, March 1974
Obituary in LA Times