2018 IS A YEAR DEDICATED TO REMEMBERING GUSTAV KLIMT, EGON SCHIELE AND KOLO MOSER, THREE OF AUSTRIA’S GREATEST PAINTERS. A YEAR WHICH, MAYBE, COULD ALSO MAKE SPACE FOR ALFONS WALDE, WHO DIED 60 YEARS AGO IN KITZBÜHEL.
Walde moved to Vienna to study architecture in 1910 and exhibited his paintings in the Secession Building in 1913: he was a contemporary artist of the movement, rather than a student. Moving in the Viennese art scene, passing between Art Nouveau and the incipient Expressionism, allowed him to make significant encounters: Gustav Klimt shaped him with the colourful language of floral decorations. His friendship with Egon Schiele opened his eyes to painting styles which were expressive and at the same time graphically impressive. And finally, Koloman Moser’s landscapes shaped Walde’s compositions of nature with landscapes bathed in light. These experiences are at the heart of his own style and allowed him to find his inner voice when choosing his subjects, painting styles, and colour which he developed in Kitzbühel, as the capital didn’t offer the right environment for his art!
His work was influenced by winter and sport, and we have to thank him if those themes became commonplace in Austrian painting. In 1913 he painted small, often spontaneous sketches of everyday life: ‘Gasslrennen’ (sledge races), athletes skiing, ladies on the ski slope, society mingling during an Après-Ski as well as natural, intimate moments. The landscape between the Hahnenkamm, the Wilder Kaiser and the Jochberg mountains became an artistically stimulating refuge for Alfons Walde. His signature trait is epitomised by soft snowy areas in stark contrast to rocky, rugged mountain sceneries, as can be seen in the ‘Bauernhof am Wilden Kaiser’. His main concern was to unite man, architecture and nature into a harmonious whole, and he succeeded in doing so in ‘Winter in Kitzbühel’. In contrast, he painted ‘Stadt im Tauschnee’ in an almost monochrome view, reminiscent of Schiele’s city paintings, like a portrait of his hometown. However, he also lets people and their cheerful mien come to life in ‘Bauernsonntag’ and ‘Begegnung’.
His main themes include a series of idyllic still lives, flower arrangements and subjects from religious, everyday life and sporting events which have spread worldwide. In addition, one senses his preference for the female nude, painted using a subtle expressivity and with refined colours. Intimacy and sensuality come to the fore in themes such as ‘Erotik’. In the 1930s, his palette of pastel colours will dominate themes such as ‘Bergweiler’ or ‘Alpensommer’, but themes such as ‘Almen im Schnee’ or ‘Aufstieg der Skifahrer’ are also in demand.
As an architect, he shaped his hometown, Kitzbühel: in 1926/27 he built the valley and ‘mountain station of the Hahnenkammbahn’, which would later include a hotel, and in 1929 he built a home up in the mountains which would become his ‘atelier’ for his nudes, surrounded by nature and away from the public eye. He also planned villas and commercial buildings. His main themes depict Tyrol in all its facets: untouched nature set against the backdrop of a large ‘winter landscape’ as a monumental idyll or the ‘Auracher Kirchl’, a small chapel, become striking symbols of an alpine Tyrol.
Michael Walde-Berger talks about his grandfather
‘I’ve often been asked at several vernissages, presentations, etc.: aren’t you proud to have such a great grandfather? And I always find it difficult to answer this question, because one can only be proud of things one has worked out and achieved personally. As an actor I enjoy small victories and a success that cannot be compared to that of Alfons Walde, but I am extremely happy for the success he had in the decades after his death which, unfortunately, he never experienced. I would rather speak of a melancholic joy, as well as pride that comes from being a close relative and the trustee of part of his oeuvre.
I’ve got to confess that in the early years of my work with my grandfather’s paintings, I did so out of a sense of debt, as though I owed him something: after all, he’d created so much ideal and material happiness for our family. He was a hard-working man: according to my mother’s stories, he worked all night long aided by a lightbulb: not only did he manage to create these wonderful landscapes but, motivated by his strong sense of the aesthetic, he also gave space to the erotic petals we see among his work.
Unfortunately, I was never lucky enough to meet him personally, and yet I believe that I know understand something of his mind and soul by reading many of the documents belonging to his estate. The work acquired a deeply human component which can be compared with the discovery of his character and his soul, swaying between creation, success and sincerity. This is a trait I can empathise with as an actor. His choice of expressions and language are characteristic of a Tyrolean who ‘doesn’t mince his words’, i.e. says what he thinks and never loses his sense of humour; that is, unless he discovers an injustice and becomes angry: the fun is over, even with Alfons. Throughout his life, he always stood his ground when it came to his political convictions, even in the Nazi era, which almost cost him his freedom, as he was nearly sent to the Dachau concentration camp.
Through many letters, for example to friends and passionate, erotic writings sent to his lovers, I now understand what made him such a hard-working painter. He repeats, ‘my wife costs me so much money, I have to work.’ But ultimately, I think, he was driven more by the urge to create than making money. I spontaneously remember one of the many letters of the 1950s to his lover Lotte von Minkus: he implored to tell him about her erotic adventures when she was not visiting him because he needed those fantasies for the happiness of his soul and as a way to boost his batteries to produce art.
He was torn between art and passion. Both were not questioned in their existence, but nevertheless their nature was carefully examined. Both forces were thoroughly natural and sincere, as was he as a human being. In summary, I can say that he would probably have been my best friend if I had been allowed to meet and ‘experience’ him. Indeed, I may not find much resonance in his figure as a grandfather, but more as a good friend.’
Authors of this article
MICHAEL WALDE-BERGER and GERT AMMANN