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Blick Von Der Höhe (A View From The Heights)

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Regarded as a key figure in Indonesia’s modern art movement, Walter Spies is respected for his influence upon the country’s artistic heritage. Enamoured by the archipelago’s lush greenery, local folklore and mysticism, Spies ultimately desired to recreate this world within the landscape of his paintings. Blick von Der Höhe (View from the Heights) is demonstrative of the favoured themes and constructs that frequented the German artist’s paintings. Palm trees guide the eyes upwards, while vertically separating the landscape into miniature vignettes. Rice fields are woven into the fabric of the landscape, as the sky is reflected within the water beds. In the distance is Gunung Agung, the volcano a quiet presence as it observes the farmers slowly returning home.\nMany of the works created during Spies’ lifetime were landscapes. This was reflective of the artist’s strong affinity for his natural surroundings, as well as his classical training as a painter. During the mid-thirties when Blick von Der Höhe (View from the Heights) was painted, Spies had already begun to experiment with different styles of composition. By separating the scenery into smaller sections, the artist was able to explore multiple horizons within a painting’s composition. The present work perfectly exemplifies Spies’ genius with shifting viewpoints in the composition.\nDue to the artist’s untimely death at forty-six, there are unfortunately only a handful of oil paintings that are known to exist. Less than fifty of these works are representative of his celebrated island motifs, thereby rendering the present work an even more valuable, and important part of Spies’ creative legacy. “You can’t imagine what [Indonesia] looked like… It was the most fantastic thing that ever existed”, he had said1.\nSpies had previously experimented with the aesthetic of having multiple scenes in his paintings. The painting Village Vista (Fig. 1) was created in 1933, one year prior to Blick von Der Höhe (View from the Heights). Comparing the two works side by side it is possible to see his creative maturation with different styles, and perspectives.\nThe artist also found inspiration in Pieter Bruegel’s landscape portraits, the 16th century Flemish artist whose “world panoramas” had transformed genre painting by having landscapes inspire the visual aesthetics of a piece. The composition in the present work is reminiscent of the painting The Gloomy Day (Fig. 2). Notably how the trees divide the landscape into smaller scenes, thereby instilling a deeper sense of depth, and drama into the narrative.\nThroughout his career Spies had created works for his collector friends, including Charlie Chaplin and Barbara Hutton. Village Vista and Lakescape (Fig. 3) were works that the American heiress had requested Spies to paint for her. These commissions enabled him to meet and befriend like-minded intellectuals, as well as finance his trips overseas. A close friend and confidante of the artist was Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau (Fig. 4), the German director respected for his avant-garde films, such as Nosferatu. He taught the painter how colours inspired different moods within a given narrative. He also had a hand in Spies experimentation with light and darkness in the composition of the paintings.\nAs a youth growing up during the era of European colonialism, Spies was familiar with Asia from the stories he heard from travellers. This fascination with the region was further nurtured when Spies saw artworks from the Dutch colonies at the Tropenmuseum (Tropical Museum) in Amsterdam. It was also during this period that Henri Rousseau and his primitive artworks were in vogue. Spies was attracted to the French artist’s depictions of tropical wildlife, and sought to incorporate this style into his own works. The stylized portrayal of the island native in the 1907 painting, La Charmeuse de Serpents (The Snake Charmer) (Fig. 5), foreshadows Spies depiction of the natural world in his landscape paintings.\nAt twenty-eight years old Spies joined a freighter crew and arrived to Java in 1923. The move proved beneficial for the young artist, for a mere four years later, Spies decided to permanently relocate to Bali. “Now that I am coming into contact with the Javanese and their incredibly advanced and fabulous culture, I am practically out of my mind”, he wrote. “It is hard to imagine that something of such beauty can exist! Oh, I adore them as I have never adored in my life before”2. He lived on the island as an “artist in residence” until his death in 1942.\nIn a letter to his family the artist wrote that “for a Balinese—and this comes from his primitive and unspoilt nature, his closeness to nature—life is the glorious, holy fact; religion is alive and it exits to teach how life is to be loved and lived, and art is alive and exists to praise the holiness of life and religion”3.\nIn Blick von Der Höhe (A View from the Heights) the farmer resting in the corner, his silhouette outlined by the last rays of the setting sun, represented the “everyman” that inhabited Spies’ imagination. In the painting the role is played out with quiet precision: A man observing the fruit of his labour as the day slowly comes to an end. Meanwhile, farther in the shadows are other villagers on their way home. It is a meditative study of a nocturnal moment, as realized by the individuals who inhabit the painting, their figures complimentary shapes in the darkness.\nHowever, it is the landscape that is ultimately the main protagonist within Spies’ artworks. Figures and animals only highlight the omnipresent nature of a country’s geography. In Blick von Der Höhe (A View from the Heights) the island’s presence is felt even more intensely due to the lack of figures occupying the space.\nThe artwork is a vibrant portrayal of the Balinese countryside, coloured by tropical flora and fauna, the light and shadows duelling for dominance within the scene. As documented throughout his paintings, the works are a love letter to the people whom Spies befriended, and the country that he chose to become his adopted home. The artist’s oeuvre may be read as a magical realist fable, with each visual narrative rich in imagery, and symbolism.\n1 John, Stowell, Walter Spies: A Life in Art, Afterhours Books, 2012\n2 Refer to 1\n3 Refer to 1\nSigned; Signed, titled and dated Bali 1934 on the reverse 


Oil on canvas


Walter Spies


The work is in good condition overall, as is the canvas, which is clear and sound. There is indication of light wear and handling along the edges. Upon close observation, there are gentle craquelures predominantly located on the mountains and in the background just below the center palm tree leaves.Examination under UV light reveals traces of minor scattered restoration spots on the green parts of the paddy field at the lower left. Inspection of the painting was done with the frame. Framed. "In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue. NOTWITHSTANDING THIS REPORT OR ANY DISCUSSIONS CONCERNING A LOT, ALL LOTS ARE OFFERED AND SOLD AS IS" IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE CONDITIONS OF BUSINESS PRINTED IN THE SALE CATALOGUE."


100.5 by 82.5 cm.; 39 1/2 by 32 1/2 in.


The Hague, Haags, Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, Tentoonstelling Walter Spies, 1964


Hans Rhodius, Schönheit und Reichtum des Lebens: Walter Spies (Maler und Musiker auf Bali 1895-1942), The Hague, The Netherlands, 1964, P. 353 John Stowell, Walter Spies: A Life in Art, Afterhours Books, Jakarta, Indonesia, 2012,  P.169, color plate 68


Acquired directly from the artist by Sir Victor Sassoon thence by descent to Mrs. Michael Wood Christie's Singapore, September 30 2001, Lot 228 Acquired by the Present Owner at the Above sale


Signed; Signed, titled and dated Bali 1934 on the reverse 


Property of a Private Collector, Switzerland



*Note: The price is not recalculated to the current value. It refers to the actual final price at the time the item was sold.

*Note: The price is not recalculated to the current value. It refers to the actual final price at the time the item was sold.