The collection of the Museum der Moderne Salzburg is relatively young, going back to the art dealer Friedrich Welz’s gift of his private art collection to the State of Salzburg in the late 1970s on condition that a museum be established to house it. The Welz donation primarily comprised a large number of graphic works by well-known artists such as Herbert Boeckl, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Paul Klee, Giacomo Manzù, Wilhelm Thöny, and Fritz Wotruba. At the time when the Modern Gallery and Graphic Art Collection Rupertinum was founded – later renamed the Museum der Moderne Salzburg – its collection included the Welz donation, 20th-century paintings from the gallery of the Salzburg Residenz, and an extensive collection of graphic art from the Galerie Kunst der Gegenwart that was initially on permanent loan, and was later converted into a donation.
Works on paper remain an important focus for the Museum der Moderne Salzburg. They currently account for a good half of its total holdings, numbering some 31,000 works. The period of the fin-de-siècle is represented by 13 of Max Klinger’s 14 portfolios, several important drawings by Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele, and 450 prints by Alfred Kubin. In addition, the 19th-century roots of modern art are to be found in several important prints by Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, Edvard Munch, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and in several significant cycles of graphic art by Francisco de Goya; these were purchased under the Museum’s founding director, Otto Breicha (1983–1997). A further focus is on works of early Austro-German Expressionism and of the Neo-Expressionism of the 1980s. The Museum holds almost the complete graphic oeuvre of Oskar Kokoschka, with a total of 550 prints. There is also a collection of some 300 works by Georg Eisler that document a specifically Austrian variant of Expressive Realism from the 1960s to the 1980s.
The Museum’s collection of paintings, sculptures, and sculptural works was expanded in its early years by Otto Breicha. Despite limited financial resources, Breicha’s careful observation of the Austrian art scene meant that he was able to acquire early works by Siegfried Anzinger, Erwin Bohatsch, Gunter Damisch, Kurt Kocherscheidt, Alois Mosbacher, Peter Pongratz, Franz Ringel, and Hubert Schmalix for the Museum. Fritz Wotruba, who returned to his native Austria from Swiss exile in 1945, was responsible for an increasing diversity on the domestic sculpture scene. His oeuvre and that of subsequent generations of his students are documented in the Museum’s holdings (Joannis Avramidis, Oskar Bottoli, Otto Eder, Roland Goeschl, Alfred Hrdlicka, Erwin Reiter, and Andreas Urteil). In thematic terms, Breicha concentrated on images of the human being, in other words on works of art that dealt with the constitution of the individual and with existential issues – a focus that is also reflected in later additions to the collection.