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Walter Spies

Victim | 15 September 1895 | Artist

Walter  SpiesBorn in Russia on 15 September 1895. He develops himself as painter, choreographer, writer, photographer and maecenas. In 1923 he arrives in Java where he manages to find work at the court of Sultan Hamengku Buwono of Jogyakarta. From 1927 he settles near Ubud on Bali. He becomes much respected and loved by the Balinese. In cooperation with the Dutch painter Rudolf Bonnet he made Bali and the Balinese arts world famous. With colleagues, he founds the cooperative Pita Maha for local artists. In his diaries and letters, Walter Spies is always positive about the local cultures and rather critical about the stiff Dutch civil servants who do admire his creativity but also feel uncomfortable about his decadent lifestyle.

During the interbellum, he becomes the host for many foreign and famous journalists, anthropologists, movie stars, writers and artists. He earns quick money with his photography and the design of travel catalogues and poster, among others for the KPM shipping company.

Just before the war, he is arrested by the Dutch authorities on suspicion of homosexuality. He spends time in a jail in Surabaya. In 1940 he is interned as German national. He is deported with the ss Van Imhoff in January 1942 and becomes its most famous victim. Survivors and eye witnesses claim that Spies befriended with another victim (Hans Overbeck) during the last miserable two years of his life. His presence on the list of Van Imhoff casualties became iconic, underlining the innocence of the victims and the absurdity of the arrests.

On internet, the life and works of Walter Spies are described in detail. Example: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walter_Spies

The most famous biography is written by Hans Rhodius: Schoenheit und Reichtum des Lebens Walter Spies - Maler und Musiker auf Bali 1895-1942, The Hague, 1964.

Since 2011 the archives of the Walter Spies Gesellschaft are managed by the Rautenstrauch Joest Museum in Köln.

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