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    Kitzbühel and the Painter of Snow

    This year, Kitzbühel celebrates its 750th birthday. The town renowned for winter sports and spectacular downhill runs is also associated with artist Alfons Walde, the Painter of Snow.

    Few artists are so connected with a specific location as Alfons Walde (1891–1958) was with the ski village of Kitzbühel. His subjects were the snow covered mountains of Tirol and remote mountain huts. He was especially fascinated with the dashing skiers of the time, as they were making their way down the slopes. He was himself an enthusiastic disciple of this new sport and used every opportunity he got to leave his own tracks on the powdered slopes. 

    It was in the 1920s, that the Tirolean winter fairy-tale began with the meteoric rise of the legendary ski village Kitzbühel. Around this time, Walde returned to his birth place. His father had insisted that he studied architecture at the building school of the „k. k. Technischen Hochschule“ (the Imperial Technical University) in Vienna. The young student, however, preferred to paint - his talent and his passion were already apparent during his early childhood. It did not take long, therefore, until he sought contact with the artist community around Gustav Klimt, the Secessionists, during his stay in Vienna (1910-1914). He became good friends with Egon Schiele, who was only one year older and whose expressionistic style would influence his own work later on. 

    Soon after his return from Vienna, Alfons Walde - drawn more to the art of painting than to architecture - began to develop his own style and found his muse in the Kitzbühel Alps. It did not take long for him to find success: He won several prizes with his winter paintings, participated in the Biennale Romana in Rome (1925) and presented his works at the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh (1928).

    Alfons Walde’s career rose at the same time as Kitzbühel blossomed into a posh ski resort. Long before Alain Delon and Romy Schneider vacationed here and Kirk Douglass broke his leg, the Tirolean mountain village saw the first luxury hotels and ski lifts. Walde paid close attention to this development and captured it in his paintings. The brilliant white and deep blue of snow and sky encapsulated the enthusiasm for this new form of winter sports in the Alps.

    Tourism revived the village and brought lucrative contracts for the artist. By fulfilling requests for copies of his most popular compositions, he increased the renown of his works. A businessman at heart, Walde founded a postcard publishing house in 1923, which sold more than one million colour postcards and 200,000 colour prints of his works over the next 27 years. This made him the most renowned painter of the Austrian Alps in modernity and established the ski portrait as an unmistakable genre of his art.

     

    On Walde-Snow and Walde-Sky

    
    Alfons Walde’s style is unique, expressive and incredibly dynamic. The artist did not lose himself in detail, rather, he focused on the big picture. Not even his figures show individual features, and the eyes of those portrayed are often obscured by the shadow of their headwear. The villagers in his paintings often share the same angular and rough-hewn features. The colors are intense, the light glaring, and the snow is reflecting the midday sun. 

    This form of presentation became Walde’s signature style and to this day - more than 60 years after his death in 1958 - it influences the perception of locals: “A day with Walde-snow and Walde-sky!” is an exclamation that is frequently used. For many Tiroleans, this phrase still captures the essence of a perfect day on skis.

    The Austrian Way of Skiing

    Off-piste skiing in Kitzbühel
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    During Alfons Walde’s time, a new skiing technique was being developed. Enthralled, the painter captured it in one of his key works: The painting “Kristiania” (around 1925 ) shows the dynamic of the turn, snow spraying into the air. A dashing skier descends the slope at breakneck speed, initiating his next turn with one of his poles. 

    The parallel turn was invented in the 1920s by two Austrians, Hannes Schneider and Toni Seelos. Now skiers elegantly curved down the slopes in a deep squat. The most important aspect of this technique: The downhill facing shoulder has to be turned backwards, otherwise “one will never master the parallel turn,” according to Toni Seelos. This one movement revolutionised the ski sport. Even in Japan and in the USA, this new way of skiing became dominant.

    Historic Ski Fashion

    Skiers at the beginning of the 20th century
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    As men conquered the mountains clad in hat, loden jacket and tie, ladies demonstrated equal fashion sense and glided down the slopes dressed in their Sunday best, accessorized with wide hats and silk scarfs. In the 1920s, ski runs essentially turned into runways. It started out with long wool skirts and puttees and continued with fashionable mink caps. Ski-guru Hannes Schneider recommended that skiers “only wear smooth materials, so that in case of a fall snow can’t stick to the clothing.”

    In the 1950s, Marilyn Monroe, Ingrid Bergman and Liz Taylor took this advice to heart: They made fluttering wind breakers and stretch trousers all the rage in ski fashion. Few people knew that the stretch pants were stuffed with paper for insulation against the cold. Then there was the wool sweater with Norwegian pattern. To show it off, ladies tied their jackets around their waist. The occasional cold was the price one paid for fashion credentials and reputation. 

    Life and Work - Kitzbühel Museum

    Afons Walde Museum in Kitzbuehel / Kitzbühel
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    Alfons Walde (February 8, 1891, to December 11, 1958, Kitzbühel) is famous for his depictions of the snow-covered Tirolean Alps, Sunday life in the village and of winter sports. That his early work was strongly influenced by Egon Schiele and he also painted still-lifes as well as nudes is less common knowledge. 

    Nevertheless, from the 1920s to the 1940s, landscapes, skiing, rural life and locals in their Sunday-best were his main motifs. Walde had considerable success with his winter paintings and participated in many exhibitions. After the Anschluss in 1938, Alfons Walde struggled as an artist. Without his international following, his work was interrupted. Without commissions, he was told to keep painting for friends and family only. On December 5, 1958, Alfons Walde died of heart failure at the age of 67. As an artist, he left behind one of the most popular oeuvres of the interwar period in Austria. Click the link to get to the collection: Kitzbühel Museum

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