Last Letter to Carl Griese

(about his journeys around the world, etc.; Carl Griese was a publisher of some of his early books)


Karlsruhe, Südendstr. 6, June 7th, 1915

Dear Carl !

When will you visit me ? During the summer holidays ? I am not ready with my travel documents, since I've spent so much time "down under" side of the earth I have lost my German Reich citizenship. A while ago they cancelled that silly law and I think now I can acquire nationality of Baden. In all the countries I visited you never required papers or a passport. You are always called by your Christian name, so I am "Willy", or you get a title, as in New Zealand, where I was known as Professor Andresen. As I've been out of military duty for almost 13 years, I didn't see the necessity for proper papers; often there were no German representatives or just Danish or English merchants. 

If the World War hadn't begun, it would not have been necessary, but instead I was forced to stay in Basel when I had intended to go to Paris to do portraits of some minor barons and baronesses, which I had also done before, and then do some work in Den Haag, Amsterdam and London. But the war put an end to all of this, and I was even unable to travel from Switzerland to Germany without documents until the German Consul made a temporary arrangement and his wife asked me for a small Bismarck painting for an art bazaar in Basel to support the wives and children of German soldiers.

At the moment I'm working on a large Bismarck painting, in colour of course, because it will be somewhat different to the "Union" (Publishing House) drawings. For my English spectators and their well known taste I had developed a very special method of executing portraits and I have received immense approval. Some kind of coloured drawing (watercolour). The Englishmen like water colours and not too large pictures and moderate prices. So I frequently did portraits of children in actual size, but only heads with less distinct shoulders, and with colour and my patent method the results were very tender artistic pieces, much prettier than pastels and more handy, as my paintings were fixed and durable.

With my huge experience in drawing I always finished within three short sessions, each up to 1 - 1¼ hours, and I delivered the paintings at a price of around 150 Marks,7 to 10 pound, which was too cheap but nevertheless provided my travel budget with a good income. But in the few big cities in Australia and New Zealand, admirers of the fine arts were quickly served, yet no lasting customers could be raised such as those in towns like Hamburg or Berlin.

Sometimes I could do the work especially fast, e.g. if I lived in the homes of the customers. They sent a motor car to pick me up and I was driven 50 to 100 Miles through the bush to the rich sheep farmers where I was recommended from one family to another and often made a whole genealogical gallery, from great-grandmother to a small baby. At the home of one family in New Zealand I made 25 portraits, in others 15 to 20. Once I broke a record, as the Englishmen say, by completing 21 portraits within 18 days. Well, this is something that makes you realize you how much you have done, but it was pleasant and all of them were carried out accurate, no modern scribbling, what is unacceptable as far as portraits are concerned.

You asked where I had been ? I saw almost all of the world. Mostly in warm climates, as I consider winter unpleasant, and since I have all things I need to work with me, it would have be silly not to make use of the opportunity. In England, where I already knew London, Liverpool and Southampton, I visited smaller towns or provincial towns, some a little larger like Norwich for example, with more than 300.000 inhabitants, but old towns, not comparable to German towns of similar size. Since they all were ecclesiastical bishoprics with very old and major cathedrals, these town are known as cathedral towns. Of course, on Sundays it is boring and you don't earn money from the really religious people, but in every small town you can find male lovers of fine arts, and my exhibitions were always well attended, as only low quality was produced in the portrait business everywhere, especially from so-called "Malweiber" (Paint-women), who had neither learned to draw, nor to paint.

For example I was in Chester, a very old town near Liverpool. In Preston, in Bolton near Manchester, Blackburn and Blackpool and St. Anne, Southport and Birkdale (north of Liverpool), in Plymouth, Norwich and often in London. Overseas I reached Canada, St. John and Montreal, California, San Francisco, New York and Boston. - In the south seas it was Honolulu, several times, Tahiti and the Marquesas Islands, the Paumotu Lower islands and the Cook Islands, Samoa, Fiji, and Tonga Islands, New-Zealand (Wellington, Aukland, Christchurch, Dunedin, etc.).

In Christchurch I lived with a friend, the mayor for several years. We painted, took photographs and enlarged them together, played gramophone and croquet, fished for eels and many kinds of sea fish, and besides several portraits, I did a lot of other pictures, some of them in antique Pompeii style. - In Australia I lived most of the time in Botany near Sydney and in Melbourne. But also at Hobart in Tasmania (Van-Diemens Land), where I spent a lot of time in the bush doing portraits, in the reality surrounded by huge, happy kangaroos, small wallabies, big poisonous snakes and Tasmanian Tigers, a type of tiger-hyena dog.

In South Africa, I visited Cape town and Durban in Natal several times, and went to Montevideo frequently too, as well as Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. I went around Cape Horn three times, once in a small English sailing ship, the "Letterewe", from Wellington to London in 120 days. In the South Seas, always on a small, leaking ship called "Tropic Bird", only about 250 tons and with a local crew from the Cook islands. We sailed and pumped from San Francisco through whole of Oceania with a permanently merry crew from Aitutaki. Finally, all the leaks were stuffed, probably due to dirt or seaweed. The black cook did a good job, he even did Sauerkraut. Only one German seaman was on board, unfortunately he was washed overboard three days after our departure and drowned.

I travelled around the world eight or nine times, so I am a kind of "Flying Dutchman". I never denied being close to the sea. - In Honolulu and San Francisco, Samoa, Sydney and New Zealand, I met with many of my old fellow marines. Some of them now as captains or as hoteliers, or as caraway or coconut planters, even copra shippers between the oceanic islands.

Now, I am at home in an unnatural rest, pasted and covered with plasters and newspapers and four cat skins, in order to keep some of the parts of my body at a high temperature. It's a new method developed by my physician, who declares he is acquainted with my illness and can heal me. On top of this I have rheumatism, all over my body, for which I am on a strawberry remedy. - Hope it will help, at least it tastes good.

So, now you know all about my travelling time.

It is wonderfully warm now, especially with the cat skins, but I am tropically trained.

Best regards to all of you
from Uncle Willy

To main page