Friedensreich Hundertwasser was born in Vienna in 1928 as Friedrich Stowasser, an only child whose father died of appendicitis when he was but a year old. In spite of being half Jewish, both he and his mother survived the war, although many in his family did not.


His only formal artistic training came in 1948 when he started studying at the Akademie der bildenden Künste in Vienna, but he left after three months out of boredom. (Ironically he became an honoured guest lecturer, giving Master Classes at the Academy many years later.) He was much more influenced by the works of Schiele as exhibited that year in a large retrospective commemorating the 50th anniversary of the artist’s death. He was also influenced by Gustav Klimt and the Viennese Sezessionstil (the Austrian equivalent of the French Art Nouveau and German Jugendstil) using art as decoration, employing sinuous lines and utilizing cloisonné effects.


In 1949, his last name evolved to Hundertwasser (A Hundred Waters from ‘sto’ meaning ‘hundred’ in Polish) and he began travelling to Italy and France, hitchhiking with friends, exhibiting his first pictures in Paris at the Galerie Librairie Palmes in the autumn. Hundertwasser subsisted happily in Paris on, literally, next to nothing for a number of years, working often with his friend René Brô. By 1952, he mounted his first solo exhibit at the Art Club in Vienna as well as one at the Galeria Sandi in Venice.


At 25, he impulsively married Herta Leitner, an Austro-Italian teenager, on a visit to Gibraltar, but started divorce proceedings almost immediately after. In July of the same year, he presented his famous ‘Mould Manifesto: Against Rationalism in Architecture’. Hundertwasser’s revulsion of the straight line and geometric regularity became apparent with his contention that ruler-drawn straight lines make people sick because they do not occur in nature and incessantly subject the human organism to an irritation for which it is unprepared. Spirals became the primary shapes in his paintings, as the only form ‘worthy of confidence - the one that corresponds to the motion which is made when opposites begin to move’.


Hundertwasser made his first trip to Japan in 1961 after Yves Klein and the Japanese art critic Segui brought his work to the attention of Yamamoto, a gallery in Tokyo’s Ginza. During this sojourn, he changed his first name to Friedensreich (Kingdom of Peace). His show in late spring sold out and, by the time he left, he had met his second wife, Yuko Ikewada, an art student. Married in 1962, he established a studio in Venice across from Piazza San Marco and was highlighted in a one-man show in the Austrian pavilion of the Biennale. In September 2004, his work was also featured in the opening exhibition of the new Museum des 20.Jahrhunderts in Vienna.


The large international travelling Hundertwasser exhibition arranged in 1964 by Kestner-Gesellschaft in Hanover for their 100th show established his international reputation and his independence from other contemporary art movements. Subsequent to his divorce in 1966, he earned some notoriety giving a couple of speeches in the nude on his architecture manifesto. When he was only 40, the University of California at Berkeley organized a momentous travelling retrospective across the States.


This same year he bought the Giuseppe T., an old wooden sailing vessel, which he spent four years living aboard in the Venetian lagoon, refitting it before rechristening it the Regentag. After sailing there to attend a show he was having in 1973, Hundertwasser fell in love with New Zealand. Buying a farm at the northern end, he proceeded to plant over 60,000 diverse trees and build the house and guesthouse with grass roofs and beer bottle windows. He became progressively more involved in environmental issues, producing posters for Green Peace and the Jacques Cousteau Society, planting trees in Washington DC and speaking to the US Senate in 1980.


Having initially gained acclaim for his paintings, Hundertwasser is now almost better known for his unique architectural style. His revolutionary ecological stance with regard to architecture earned him the nickname ‘Architecture-Healer’ for his efforts to modify and beautify existing structures in addition to creating new edifices. The influence of Antoni Gaudi's work in Barcelona, as well as some of the Jugendstil architects, can be seen in the inclusion of irregular forms and undulating surfaces in his building designs. However, Hundertwasser's radical architectural ideas also include topping buildings with trees and grassy areas where animals can graze.


A true renaissance man and citizen of the world, his works have included not just paintings and prints but also flags and stamps, coins and posters, large (the Viennese heating plant at Spittelau) and small (a lavatory in Kawakawa NZ) public buildings. Friedensreich Hundertwasser passed away suddenly while crossing the Pacific aboard Queen Elizabeth II in February 2000. In accordance with his wishes, he is buried in harmony with nature under a tulip tree on his land in New Zealand.

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