Book look: more than a counterfeiter’s confession

One of the most stunning post-war art thrillers can now be rediscovered as an infamous conman wrote his autobiography.

Wolfgang Beltracchi never actually forged paintings. He examined artists’ biographies, their personal environment and attitudes to create a missing link painting. His artworks – successfully sold as Campendonks, Pechsteins and Max Ernst paintings – were put on renowned auctioneers’ catalogues and added to catalogues of works. First few doubts regarding his art turned into a massive wave of investigations which eventually led to his arrest. Beltracchi and his wife/accomplice Helene were sentenced to six and four years in prison after having lived the dream of every wannabe celebrated artist.

Several television documentaries, interviews and an amusing 3sat series featuring bestseller author Daniel Kehlmann and others followed – as well as “Selbstportrait”, an extraordinary book about an extraordinary life. The 3sat documentary shows Beltracchi working on portraits of actor Christoph Waltz, TV entertainer Harald Schmidt among others. It is fascinating to see Beltracchi working on the paintings while chatting to the celebrities.

“Selbstportrait”, his book, is a wonderful experience for everyone interested how his felonious business developed. Those who dislike his narcissism and self-centred attitude might find it hard to get through the 600 pages. Before descriptions of his infamous activities finally kick off, Beltracchi writes about his difficult childhood, rebellious youth and journeys to Amsterdam and Morocco. Some chapters of the book were penned by Helene. She writes about meeting Wolfgang for the first time. Further on, she describes the excitement of negotiations with art experts concerning her husband’s paintings.

The publication confirms that the German is not only a brilliant painter but also a talented writer. The controversial parts of the book are not the forgery chapters. Readers might disapprove of his decision to describe all aspects of his life in detail while the public’s main interest is getting an inside view on his illicit activities – which are described with increased intensity as the book continues…

By Helene & Wolfgang Beltracchi
Published by Rowohlt (

::: The Austrian Culture Channel on Twitter: @accthomas

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