Kerschbaumer's book scrutinises the activities of Friedrich Welz (1903-1980), a Salzburg art dealer who thrived under the Nazi regime. Kerschbaumer criticises the Salzburg public authorities for their post-war collusion in downplaying Welz's role under the Nazis, but also for focusing criticism on Welz in recent years, thereby deflecting attention from the city's own active involvement in the acquisition of works of art within the German Reich and in Paris under the Nazi regime. Kerschbaumer seeks to present a complex picture of Welz, describing his cooperation with figures of the art world and the political sphere under the Nazi regime, but also critically examining his activities after 1945. Welz is shown as an opportunist adept at obscuring his activities, who after 1945 cast himself in the role of victim and benefactor.
The book is divided into very short chapters which span Welz's professional life including his activities before 1938; his blossoming career after 1938; his 'aryanisation' of the Galerie Würthle (Vienna) and the Villa Steinreich at St. Gilgen; his acquisition of part of the Heinrich Rieger collection; his connections in the Nazi art world, including Bruno Grimschitz and the half-brothers Kajetan and Josef Mühlmann; his purchase of works of art in France; and the creation of the Landesgalerie Salzburg. Kerschbaumer also details Welz's post-war internment and interrogation; his activities in the face of the art looting investigations of the US Army; the legal disputes in which he was involved; and his re-integration into the Salzburg art world.
It is interesting to read this book in conjunction with the Inventarbuch der Landesgalerie Salzburg 1942-1944 (The Inventory Book of the Landesgalerie Salzburg 1942-1944), a publication on Welz and his Paris purchases for the Landesgalerie researched by the Salzburg Provincial Archives. The two publications are very different in tone and approach and shed two kinds of light on the issue. In contrast to the pains taken by the Inventarbuch to emphasise the legality of Welz's purchases in Paris, it is interesting to read Kerschbaumer's comments in his chapter 'Pariser Einkaufsreisen'. He argues that most wartime transactions in Paris were at best semi-legal and that buyers from the German Reich produced their own receipts both because of the bureaucracy under the Nazi occupation and for their clients. Kerschbaumer closely examines the financial statements and inventory book of the Landesgalerie, pointing out inconsistencies that indicate that Welz's invoices were far from straightforward.
Kerschbaumer is sceptical of the Salzburg Provincial Archive's publication. In his chapter 'Inventar und Kunstwäsche', he mentions the missing original inventory of the Galerie Welz where purchases were recorded (Welz acquired works for his private Galerie Welz; many of these later became part of the collection of the Landesgalerie) and which according to him would be a crucial tool for provenance research. Kerschbaumer makes his case that the 1942-1944 inventory book created at the Landesgalerie was used to cloud the provenance of works of art (for instance by deliberately restricting provenance information to the gallery a work was purchased from and making no reference to previous owners) and laments that, with the earlier lists and documents still missing, the lavish publication of this inventory has been an 'effort wasted'.
Kerschbaumer attempts to untangle Welz's complex web of activities. His scrutiny of ostensibly straightforward data in order to uncover the complex circumstances behind it is admirable. However, overall the book suffers from a lack of structure and can frequently be confusing. It includes a list of the sources consulted and a bibliography, but unfortunately lacks an index of the persons and works of art mentioned.
The contents page of the book
Friedrich Maximilian Welz, ein Österreicher 7
Im politischen Getriebe: Kunstsalon F. Welz 13
Verstümmeltes Österreich mit falschem Etikett 18
Makart im Blitzkrieg 22
Reichsautobahn, Kärnten und Trophäen 24
Heimatschatz und delikater Schiele 26
Schöngefärbte Betriebsprüfung 29
Inventar und Kunstwäsche 36
Täuscher Grimschitz und Welz 43
Dienststelle Gebrüder Mühlmann 50
Pariser Einkaufsreisen 55
Evelyn Tucker verhört Friedrich Wels 70
French claims and receipts 81
Pre-war Austrian property 87
The private home of Mr. Welz at St. Gilgen 98
Galerie Würthle: Jaray - Welz - Jaray 104
Erbe nach Heinrich Rieger, Wien - Theresienstadt 111
Die vertauschten Schiele 130
Österreichs Staatspolizei ermittelt 136
Österreichs Staatsanwaltschaft begründet 143
Betrug und großes Verschiebungsmanöver 148
Verstecken und verraten 151
Vertrauliches Komplott und öffentliche Niedertracht 161
Internationales Renommee und krauser Rechtsstreit 166
Fackelträger des abendländischen Geistes 172
Residenzfähig: Drittes Reich 175
Post scriptum 189
Gert Kerschbaumer, Meister des Verwirrens: Die Geschäfte des Kunsthändlers Friedrich Welz, Czernin Verlag, Wien 2000 (Master of Intrigues: The Dealings of the Art Dealer Friedrich Welz)