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ARTHUR FLEISCHMANN

(Slovak, 1896 - 1990)

Self Portrait, 1938-39, gelatin silver print, 17 x 12 cm.

  • Born in Bratislava, Slovakia
  • Began learning to sculpt while off-duty during World War I
  • Started to work as a dermatologist whilst studying sculpture under Josef Müllner
  • Left medical profession to focus on sculpting
  • Travelled to South Africa and later moved to Bali
  • Worked on a manuscript of his book Bali Through a Sculptor’s Eyes
  • Forced to leave Bali for Sydney at the start of the Japanese Occupation
  • Became a founding member of the Merioola Group
  • Left Sydney for London 
  • Admitted into the Royal Society of British Sculptors; began using Perspex as his medium
  • Given the title ‘Knight Commander of the Order of Saint Gregory the Great’ by Pope John Paul II
  • Passed away in Tenerife at the age of 93
In the late 1930s in Bali, Arthur Fleischmann encountered and was struck by the everyday heroics of Balinese women in agrarian life. Ni Rmpang and Ni Runding – two of his favourite models – are at harvest, their labour under the heat of a searing sun celebrated and immortalised.
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The people generally like to walk to the next village through the paddy fields instead of taking the road, where bicycles and occasional cars disturb the peace. Ni Rmpang and Ni Runding are on their way through the sawah and have to walk in single file on the narrow path. On both sides of it the soil is under water across which the afternoon sun casts shadows.

Arthur Fleischmann, Ni Rmpang and Ni Runding in Paddy Fields III, 1938-39, gelatin silver print, 21.2 x 16.3 cm.

From left to right:

Arthur Fleischmann, Ni Runding and Ni Rmpang in Paddy Fields IV, 1938-39,  gelatin silver print, 24.3 x 17.8 cm.

Arthur Fleischmann, Ni Runding and Ni Rmpang in Paddy Fields I, 1938-39, gelatin silver print, 17.7 x 24.2 cm.

Arthur Fleischmann, Ni Runding and Ni Rmpang in Paddy Fields II, 1938-39, gelatin silver print, 17.8 x 18.4 cm.


Fleischmann the photographer pursues beauty in its different guises. This portrait series of Ni Runding is extensive, showing her unadorned in the studio, present in the accoutrements of ceremonial life and framed against a verdant Balinese landscape.

Ni Runding has a fine perforated basket on her head, and wears a pair of gilt sibengs (earrings). The sibengs indicate that she is unmarried. When the large ornamental plug is taken out, a hole is seen in the earlobe, which contracts fairly quickly.

This photograph was part of a sequence that would have been used as study materials for a sculpture.

This photograph was part of a sequence that would have been used as study materials for a sculpture.

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Contemporaries of Arthur Fleischmann in the late 1930s in Bali include the Belgian impressionist Adrien-Jean Le Mayeur de Merpres, and the two exceptional Dutch artists Rudolf Bonnet and Willem Gerard Hofker. Alongside Fleischmann, they were deeply interested in Balinese people, devoting the greatest part of their Balinese oeuvres to portraits. Ni Kenjeon is one of Hokfer’s favourite model.

From left to right:

Arthur Fleischmann, Portrait of Runding with her head-dress and collar, 1938-39, gelatin silver print, 21 x 16 cm.

Arthur Fleischmann, Ni Runding posing in the shadow of palms, 1938-39, gelatin silver print, 24.2 x 17.7  cm.

Arthur Fleischmann, Portrait of Ni Runding in the Studio, 1938-39, gelatin silver print, 24.1 x 17.2  cm.

Arthur Fleischmann, Ni Runding Posing with a Bowl on Her Head, 1938-39, gelatin silver print photograph, 24.2 x 17.4  cm.

Willem Gerard Hofker, Portrait of Ni Kenjoen, 1943, conte crayon, graphite and pastel on paper, 39.5 x 30 cm. Private collection, Indonesia.


Captured from a raised vantage point, Fleischmann frames a timeless Indonesian conception of landscape - the triumvirate of mountain, sawah and water.
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Bali is presented in its elements: nature, ritual and harmony with nature. The photographer crouches or arches his back, aiming upwards, and all of these elements are captured under one and the same sky.

Puras pierce through the morning fog in the middle ground, at one with nature, witnessing each passing day, and is a constant today as much as it was 80 year ago. 

From left to right:

Arthur Fleischmann, Rice Fields in Tampak Siring with Gunung Agung in the Background, gelatin silver print, 16 x 21.1 cm.

Arthur Fleischmann, View of Penjor Along a Village Street, gelatin silver print, 24.2 x 17 cm.

Arthur Fleischmann, Paddy fields at Dawn, gelatin silver print, 15.5 x 20.5 cm.

Arthur Fleischmann, Temples in the Mist, gelatin silver print, 15.5 x 21 cm.


Ritual is dense, yet fleetingly so. The individual attains an ephemeral moment of ecstasy amidst the collective. Fleischmann’s photographic eye pierces through the fervour and density of ritual life with remarkable acuity.

A part of the Barong dance is an exorcism which is called Kris Dance. Young men sit for a long time on the ground, concentrating and working themselves into a trance-like state. A man dressed as Rangda, the mother of all evil spirits appears. The young men want to attack Rangda with their krises (daggers handed down from generation to generation), but she, by her magic power, turns the Kris against its owners and now the men press the very sharp ends of their daggers violently against their breasts and necks as if they were about to commit suicide. The frenzy grows until the older more sober members of the community have to intervene. Often two of three men are needed to wrench the kris out of the bewitched men, who after that sometimes fall completely exhausted to the ground not awakening for a quite a long time.

From left to right:

Arthur Fleischmann, Kris Dance I, gelatin silver print, 16 x 21 cm.

Arthur Fleischmann, Kris Dance II, gelatin silver print, 16 x 21 cm.

Rudolf Bonnet, The Kris Dance, ca. 1930s, pastel on paper laid down on canvas, 133 x 124 cm.

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The cast of the priests plays a crucial part in Balinese religious life. They are held in the utmost reverence, naturally, for they guide the soul of every Balinese man and woman into and out of this earthly life by way of their ancient, time-honoured rituals. There are two categories of priests: the pedandas of the Brahman caste, and the pemangkus, the village priests.

This photograph shows a pemangku who presides mainly over small ceremonies in villages and in the home. The brass bell or ganta in this photograph is an important attribute of the ceremonial priests. The holy water sprinkler and the staff-like object for sprinkling the faithful with water are important as well.

From left to right:

Arthur Fleischmann, Legong Dance, 1938-39, gelatin silver print, 17 x 23.5 cm.

Willem Gerard Hofker, Ni Legit in Djanger, 1938, conte crayon, oil on canvas, 55 x 39 cm.

Arthur Fleischmann, Kris Dance II, 1938-39, gelatin silver print, 16 x 21 cm.

Arthur Fleischmann, Profile of Pemangkus Praying with Two Children in Foreground, 1938-39, gelatin silver print, 16 x 21 cm.

Miguel Covarrubias, Priest with Incense Burner, c. 1930s, gouache on paper, 35 x 25cm. Collection of National Gallery Singapore

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Arthur Fleischmann, Man and Singha, gelatin silver print, 6 x 10 cm

The demons and gods of Bali are and have always been omnipresent; sentry stones and preserved in posterity through photography and paintings. In Bali, ritual life envelops everyday life.

From left to right:

Affandi, Rangda, 1963, oil on canvas, 139.5 x 95 cm.

Arthur Fleischmann, Rangda in a Temple Complex, gelatin silver print, 21 x 16 cm.