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WELZ, Johann Max Friedrich (Jean)

Born: 1900 03 04
Died: 1975 12 24


A leading South African painter, Jean Welz was born in Salzburg in Austria and trained as an architect under Oskar Strnad and Josef Hoffmann in Vienna (1918-1921, 1922-1925 - a practical apprenticeship. He left for Paris at the time of the Paris Exhibition in 1925 and was employed in the office of Raymond Fischer where he designed an important minimal house in Passy, among other buildings. Through his friendship with Adolf Loos he was introduced to Le Corbusier, who remarked on Welz as 'un drole'. Welz worked as part of a circle which included LE CORBUSIER and designed, with LE CORBUSIER and Mallet Stevens, a group of three attached houses (Maison Cooke), all drawn on the same module but otherwise independent. With the depression Welz left Paris to look for work and, according to family history, met an architect on a journey between Paris, Vienna and Copenhagen - Welz's second wife was Danish - who told him about Australia, mentioning that Cape Town was worth visiting en route. The passage to South Africa was cheaper than to Australia and on the advice of his wife, Welz placed an advertisement in the Johannesburg newspaper, The Star. On his return to Hamburg he found seven replies to his request for work and set sail from Hamburg after a final visit to Paris. Welz arrived in South Africa on 6 February 1937 on the Osumbara. From 1937 to 1938 he worked in Johannesburg, at first in the office of the Danish architect S GOTSZCHE. Welz had been given a letter of introduction to 'the architects at the University of the Witwatersrand' by LE CORBUSIER, the note reading 'be kind to my friend Jean Welz'. He took this with him to Professor PEARSE who had no work for him at the time and for a few months he continued to work in Gotzsche's office and that of COOK & COWEN. Pearse was finally able to offer him the work of the reconstruction of the foyer of the Great Hall of the University of the Witwatersrand which had recently been destroyed by fire. Welz redesigned the foyer using a module after the manner of LE CORBUSIER, allegedly among the first examples of the use of a module in South Africa, although it is useful to recall A Fraser LAWRIE's module used at his own house in Pretoria in about 1928. Welz's modular design for the problematic Great Hall aroused great interest among those at the University, who were keen students of modern European architecture and disciples of LE CORBUSIER.

Welz later assisted in the design of the Bernard Price Institute, now demolished, at the University of the Witwatersrand (1938), a building sponsored by the War Office in London. The team included F WILLIAMSON and COWIN & ELLIS with G CHALMERS and J FASSLER. According to Herbert (1975:297), Chalmers and Welz were engaged as draughtsmen on this scheme. In 1938 he was diagnosed as having a tubercular condition and the Karoo was recommended; he was in a sanatorium for several years. From 1938 Welz no longer practised architecture as a career. Having recovered his health he began to paint full-time and this became his career. He designed his own house in Worcester (5 Bosman St, Langerug) in 1950 as well as a little theatre at the Hugo Naudé Art Centre in the same town where he had become curator after the death of the artist and friend.

He died in Rondebosch, Cape Town.

In 1947 he was awarded the silver medal of the South African Academy [of Arts]

In 1950 he received the merit prize of the Tercentenary Foundation

In 1969 he was awarded the Medal of Honour for Fine Art by the Suid-Afrikaanse Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns

(Copeman 1985; Fransen 1981; Herbert 1975; Ons Kuns I; Martin Welz, Inger Welz 1985, 1987; Welz Papers, HSRC)

Publ:'Abstraction' SAAR Jul 1937:298

See also Jean Welz - South African Artist From Art History

All truncated references not fully cited in 'References' are those of Joanna Walker's original text and cited in full in the 'Bibliography' entry of the Lexicon.

List of projects

With photographs
With notes

Little Theatre: 1968. Worcester, Western Cape - Architect
Union Jubilee Monument: 1960. Worcester, Western Cape - Architect
University of the Witwatersrand, Bernard Price Institute: 1935. Johannesburg, Gauteng - Architect
University of the Witwatersrand, Main Building, foyer of the Great Hall: 1936. Johannesburg, Gauteng - Architect
Voortrekker Monument: 1938. Swellendam, Western Cape - Architect

Books citing WELZ

Berman, Esmé. 1983. Art and artists of South Africa: An illustrated biographical dictionary and historical survey of painters, sculptors and graphic artists since 1875. Cape Town : Balkema. pp 12ill; 14; 15; 122; 168; 193; 218, 227; 309; 342; 434; 475; opp479ill; 491-494+ills; 514; 516

Berman, Esmé. 1970. Art and artists in South Africa : an illustrated biographical dictionary and historical survey of painters and graphic artists since 1875. Cape Town: AA Balkema. pp 13, 14, 16, 86, 112, 118, 151, 210, 236, 250, 255, 262, 270, 281, 314, 324, 325, 326, 327, 344, 345, 346

Fransen, Hans & Cook, Mary Alexander. 1981. The Old Buildings of the Cape. Cape Town: Balkema. pp

Herbert, Gilbert. 1975. Martienssen & the international style: The modern movement in South African architecture. Cape Town - Rotterdam: AA Balkema. pp

Potgieter, DJ (Editor-in-chief). 1976. Standard Encyclopaedia of South Africa [SESA] Volume 12 Suppl/Index. Cape Town: Nasou. pp 141-142

SABC. 1959. Our Art 1. Pretoria: Lantern / SABC. pp 121-125

Verwey, EJ. 1995. New Dictionary of South African Biography. Volume 1. Pretoria: HSRC. pp 266-268