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Man and nature take centre stage

Alfons Walde


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.’

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