Offered by Stéphane Renard Fine Art
Old master paintings and drawings
21 x 27 cm (37.5 x 43.5 cm framed)
Signed and dated on the left side "Walter Spies 1925”
Walter Spies was one of the first Europeans to settle in Bali after a stay in Java. He greatly contributed to the discovery and popularization of Balinese culture. Passionate about the study of nature, he produced many studies of insects in the Dutch naturalist tradition. In this watercolour from 1925, Walter Spies presents us with a spider, deliberately enlarged, both threatening and hypnotic.
1. Walter Spies, the adventurous life of a multi-talented artist
Walter Spies was born on 15 September 1895 in Moscow, where his father was a diplomat. After studying painting and music in Germany, he embarked in 1923 for Java, then under Dutch rule. He was welcomed to the court of the Sultan of Jogjakarta, who asked him to form a western orchestra, He also studied the local music, the gamelan.
In 1927 he moved to Bali, where he met the Mexican artist and anthropologist Miguel Covarrubias (1904-1957), then on his honeymoon with his wife Rose. Covarrubias wrote of their stay: "The months went by as Rose and I roamed all over the island with Spies, watching strange ceremonies, enjoying their music, listening to fantastic tales, camping in the wilds of West Bali or on the coral reefs of Sanur. Walter loved to collect velvety dragonflies, strange spiders and sea-slugs, not in a naturalist's box, but in minutely accurate drawings. For days at a time he would be in his tent drawing them, because once dead, their beautiful colours disappeared. "
Spies discovered Balinese music, which he was the first to record. He collected all the island's art forms, opening the first museum on the island and becoming its first curator. Having initially lived near Ubud in central Bali, in 1937, he moved to the Kerangasem district on the northeast tip of the island. He made friends with most of the Western travellers, whom he welcomed into his home, such as the Swiss painter Theo Meier (1908 - 1982) or the Austrian writer Vicky Baum (1888 - 1960). Baum wrote her masterpiece, Love and Death in Bali (published in 1937), thanks to Spies' insights into the island's history.
The end of Spies' life was more sombre: arrested in December 1938 as a homosexual, he was imprisoned until September 1939, when he was released thanks to the intervention of his friends, including the American anthropologist Margaret Mead (1901-1978), before being charged with paedophilia and arrested again. Interned as a German spy at the beginning of the Second World War, he was deported in 1942 on the SS Van Imhoff, which was sunk by a Japanese bomb en route to Ceylon. Walter Spies drowned like most of the prisoners on board.
2. Description of the artwork
This spider illustrates Spies taste for naturalist studies recorded by his friend Miguel Covarrubias. Dated 1925, it was probably done when the artist was staying at the court of the Sultan of Jogjakarta. The spider is shown in motion, perched on its long hairy legs. The details of the spider's body are rendered in meticulous and rich colour. The spiders eye seems to stare at the viewer, as if to hypnotize us into its web.
The artist uses the Nordic tradition of nature studies, in an art deco spirit, marked by the stylization of the animal, synthesized into almost geometric forms.
The inscription aranea diadima seems fanciful to us. Aranea diadima or Araneus diadematus is the scientific name for the garden spider, which is commonly found in Europe and North America but not in Java. While its colour can vary from beige to the darkest grey, it is recognisable by the white cross on its dorsal abdomen. We believe that Walter Spies used this name, which he knew, to describe a Javanese species that we have unfortunately been unable to identify.
The watercolor was done on strong cardboard, decorated with Chinese calligraphy on the back. It is difficult to say whether Walter Spies is the author of this calligraphy, which shows a certain mastery of the brush. The text does not seem to have been cut even though it is relatively obscure. The translation "shan qin hua hong - shi bu shi : the mountain is green, the flower is red - isn't it?” leads us to believe that it could be a calligraphic exercise rather than a real message. In any case, Walter Spies' use of it (the text is upside down when the cardboard is turned over) leads us to believe that it is certainly a reuse unrelated to the subject of the watercolour.
We have framed it in a gilded faux bamboo frame that emphasizes its exotic character.
Delevery information :
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23 000 €