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 Walter Spies  (1895 - 1942)

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Lived/Active: Indonesia/Russian Federation      Known for: Balinese figure painting, insect studies

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Walter Spiess is primarily known as Walter Spies

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Walter Spies was a Russian-born German primitivist* painter.  In 1923 he came to Java, living first in Yogyakarta and then in Ubud, Bali starting in 1927.  He is often credited with attracting the attention of Western cultural figures to Balinese culture and art.

In 1937, Walter Spies, the illustrious German artist who settled in Bali 1927 until his death in 1942, built what he described as a "mountain hut" at Iseh in Karangasem.  Adored by the Balinese, Spies was the co-founder of the Pita Maha artists cooperative, he shaped the development of Balinese art and established the Westerners Image of Bali that still exists today.

After living for nine years at the confluence of two rivers in Campuan, Spies grew weary of his increasingly hectic social life, and retired to the tranquil mountain retreat that was to become the setting of some of his most beautiful and atmospheric paintings, including Iseh im Morgenlicht 1938.  Despite his desire to escape from a constant stream of visitors, Spies still used to receive guests at Iseh, including the Austrian novelist Vicki Baum, the musician Colin McPhee and his wife, anthropologist Jane Belo and the Swiss artist Theo Meier.

In December 1938, Spies was arrested as part of a crackdown on homosexuals.  With the influence of people such as Margaret Mead, he was released in September 1939.

As a German national in the Dutch East Indies during World War II, Spies was arrested and deported.  However, a Japanese bomb hit the ship that was carrying him to Ceylon, and because the crew were reluctant to evacuate the Germans without a corresponding order, most of the prisoners on the ship, including Spies, drowned.


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