Walter Spies (1895-1942) was a Moscow born, German artist who settled in the colonial Dutch East Indies from 1923. He influenced the direction of Balinese art through Pita Maha, an artists cooperative to provide guidance to local painters, help develop painting skills and develop a market for the artist's work he co-founded with Dutch artist Rudolf Bonnet. He met his untimely death when a Japanese bomb hit the ship that was carrying him to Ceylon with other World War II deportees.
The son of a German diplomat, he grew up in an intellectual and art-minded environment.
As a child he already had a great interest in nature, music, dance and painting.
He admired the works of Marc Chagall and Paul Klee.
In 1923 he decided to leave Europe and sailed to Java, travel to Bandung and later to Yogyakarta.
But from 1927 onwards, he moved to Bali permanently where he lived in and around the village of Ubud in Bali…
…at the invitation of the Prince of Ubud at the time - Tjokorda Raka Sukawati.
His classical European painting technique, and choice of subject matter was completely new to Bali. Spies and Bonnet brought with them tempera and water colors.
Spies' work was mystical - smooth, cold, and static qualities - influenced in style by Rousseau, which are deliberately naive.
He had a great influence on the local painters like Anak Agung Gde Sobrat and many others…
…and often credited with attracting the attention of Western cultural figures to Balinese culture and art in the 1930s.