Walter Spies

May 27, 2009

Walter Spies, Multy Talented Artist

Borned in Moscow, Russia, on September 15, 1895, from a German family, Walter Spies is an artist with multy talents. His father was a German diplomat. The Spies family was wealthy, and they were interested in the arts as well as in political affairs.


Since as a child Spies loved music, dance, film and painting – some of art worlds that he studied delligently and would be wrestled with in all along his life later. In 1910 Spies was sent to school in Dresden, Germany, but after several months he returned to Russia. When the First World War was broken in 1914, his father and then Spies were arrested by Russian soldiers for some years.

Calon Arang, 1930, by Walter Spies

Calon Arang, 1930, by Walter Spies


In 1917 Spies came backed to Dresden, Germany and was soon involved in some creative art activities. In Germany he worked for sculptor Hedwig Jaenischen Woermann and became acquainted with top German Expressionist artists Oskar Kokoschka and Otto Dix. He studied painting from French artist, Henri Rousseau, and worked for silent film director F. W. Murnau. In Berlin, Spies was exposed to new trends in German contemporary music and wrote more music of his own.


Spies mounted his first exhibition of paintings in 1919. Since the time, he arranged some exhibitions.


In 1923 Spies sailed to Java island, Indonesia, a country which he knew when he was in Netherlands as a colonial state to Indonesia. Spies arrived in Bandung in West Java and then to Yogyakarta. He was interested in gamelan, the exotic traditional music of Indonesia. Soon he learned gamelan and began to experiment with fusions of Indonesian and European music.

From Yogyakarta, Spies went to Bali island in 1927 and he was very interested in Balinese people and culture. So he decided to stay there. Lived in about ten years, Spies was able to spread great influences in art work for Balinese artists, especially in painting arts. He introduced modern art to the Balinese.

With local Balinese nobleman Tjokorda Agung Sukawati, Spies founded the Pita Maha Arts Association, a group that aimed to help Balinese painters in developing of their technical masteries on painting and selling their paintings properly. Spies was also involeved in another art acitivites such as in making film on the Balinese culture, Island of Demons. He also worked on photography and coreography about Balinese people and culture.

When Germany invaded Holland soon after the outbreak of World War II, the few German citizens in the Dutch East Indies were arrested. Spies was held for 20 months in internment camps on Java and Sumatra. Even there he could occasionally paint and study musical scores sent to him by relatives. But early in 1942 he was put on a transport ship bound for Ceylon. A day after it left Sumatra, on January 19, 1942, the ship was hit off Nias Island by a Japanese bomb, and the Dutch crew abandoned ship without setting its German prisoners free. Spies drowned with the rest of the prisoners.







5 Responses to Walter Spies

  1. ElelryElano on June 5, 2009 at 7:40 pm

    Hi, Congratulations to the site owner for this marvelous work you’ve done. It has lots of useful and interesting data.

  2. Palomaro on July 11, 2009 at 5:12 pm

    Thank you for useful information.

  3. […] in Bali in 1929 and later on co-founded the influential artists’ association Pitamaha with Walter Spies and Ubud prince Cokorda Gde Agung […]

  4. […] The only work to be seen on the island of Bali by the 19th century Javanese artist Raden Saleh Syarif Bustaman and German painter Walter Spies […]

Leave a Reply