Stephan Welz Tribute
A Tribute to Stephan Welz
The members and committee of South African Friends of the Israel Museum pay tribute to Stephan Welz, the renowned art auctioneer and recognised expert on South African art who passed away on the 25th of December 2015.
We were privileged to have Stephan Welz address us as recently as November 2015 at a hosted event at Strauss premises where he spoke about the contribution of the South African Jewish community to the arts. In fact, this was his very last, much appreciated and applauded address.
The foundation of Stephan’s professional achievement was strongly influenced by his proximity to artists. His father, Jean Welz, a recognised and celebrated South African artist, and his fellows, friends and associates, including expressionist painter, Cecil Higgs, Gregoire Boonzaier, Irma Stern, Pierneef, Maggie Laubser, Maud Sumner, Alexis Preller and Walter Battiss, all served to spark his love and appreciation of art when most of his young friends preferred the rugby field.
As Karel Nel said: “There’s never an opportune moment to die, but there must surely be some satisfaction that Stephan had two of the most successful record breaking auctions in Cape Town and Johannesburg just before his death.”
Stephan’s early engagement with Sotheby’s was initially on a part time basis until he was eventually persuaded by the Head of Sotheby’s in South Africa, Reinhold Cassirer to leave his conventional job and become full-time at Sotheby’s. During the political isolation of South Africa, Sotheby’s let go of its direct interest and the company was moved into Stephan’s name.
He later joined Strauss & Co, which had been initiated by Conrad Strauss and Elizabeth Bradley. Stephan’s reputation resulted in the development of a huge following and Strauss became the preeminent auction house in the country within a year.
The loss of Stephan Welz to the South African art world is immeasurable. He was for many years, the go-to person. A national treasure with a depth and breadth of knowledge, willing to share and impart through engaging anecdotes and stories of personal encounter. His comprehensive knowledge of art included patrons, collectors, artists, silver, ceramics, furniture as well as stamps and toys.
Apart from his wealth of information, his personal impact and engaging manner is referred to time and time again.
Stephan’s unique humour combined with sharp wit, intelligence and ability to connect was attractive and compelling. It was his knowledge that was sought after, but it was his personality and style that touched everyone who knew him.
I was privileged to witness Stephan Welz on the auctioneer’s podium on numerous occasions over the years. He presided over each one with mastery, confidence and humility, engaging, educating, encouraging and entertaining his participants.
The friendship we developed, the time shared, the conversations and the advice I readily sought remain treasured memories and will live with me always.
We, the South African Friends of the Israel Museum were riveted, enriched and informed by his LAST LECTURE. We learnt about the Jewish patrons of the arts, the artists and contributors, many of whom were personal friends of Stephan. We left feeling proud of our heritage and its considerable contribution to the appreciation of art in our country. We add our voice in saying that Stephan Welz will be sorely missed.