Franz von Stuck

In 1891, when the Bulgarian Ministers saw the recent acquisition of Prince Ferdinand they were so scared that crossed in front of work of art.

The sensing of the viewer of the power of «Lucifer» by Franz von Stuck has not diminished today too. The work painted in oil on canvas in 1890 fascinates and captivates, inspires horror and chills the blood.

Franz Stuck (in 1906, when he gets a knighthood his name will have the prefix «von») was born in 1863 in Tettenweis (near Passau) in a Catholic family, farmers and millers.

By age six he was already doing caricature drawings for local residents. Father did not approve of the wish of boy to become a painter, but the mother as say von Stuck in an interview in 1901 «thought well of my ambitions». His parents sent him to Munich to study art at the School of Applied Arts when he was 8. At the age 18, he entered the Academy of Fine Arts. After completing his education, Franz Stuck has earned a living doing cartoons and illustrations for magazines and newspapers of different publishers, including «Flying Leaves» (Fliegenden Blätter) and «Youth» (Jugend). Since 1887, he began to experiment with oil painting. Being a member of the art exhibition of 1889 in «The Glass Palace» (Glaspalast), Franz Stuck received a gold medal for his painting «The Guardian of Paradise» (Der Wächter des Paradieses). This exhibition brought Franz Stuck not only a prize of 6,000 gold marks; he has become a recognized symbolist. In 1892, he was among those who founded the Munich Secession. In 1893, the painter won a prize for his painting «Sin» (Die Sünde) at the Chicago World’s Fair.



The Guardian of Paradise (Der Wächter des Paradieses), 1889. Oil on canvas, 250 × 167 cm. Sammlung H. J. Ziersch, Munich


The Guardian of Paradise (Der Wächter des Paradieses), 1889. Oil on canvas, 250×167 cm. Sammlung H. J. Ziersch, Munich
In 1895, Franz Stuck received a professorship at the Academy of Fine Arts, where he once studied, with more attention to color theory. Among the disciples were future luminaries of art: Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Josef Albers. During this time he designed and built the Villa Stuck, which demonstrated the marked ability of the painter in architecture, sculpture, design, interior decoration. Furniture created for the Villa earned him yet another gold medal at the world’s fair of 1900 held in Paris. In 1906, Franz Stuck received the order «for merit of the Bavarian Crown» and he became a nobleman, having a great creative way, from Franz Stuck to Franz Ritter von Stuck. In 1913, in all his glory, Stuck began to build a Studio next to the Villa. The structure completed in 1914 had two floors. On the first floor housed the sculpture; on the second one had paintings. Unfortunately, with the outbreak of the First World War Stuck off the sculpture and in this area he is not realized himself.

One of Stuck’s most famous sculptures, «Amazon Throwing a Spear», now stands at the entrance the Villa and is the main icon of the house (the Museum of Art Nouveau today). Shortly before his death in 1928, Stuck received an honorary doctorate of the Technical University of Munich for the making of the Villa. Franz von Stuck died on August 30, 1928; he has been buried in the Munich Waldfriedh by his wife Mary, and memorialized as «the last prince of art of Munich’s great days».



Amazon Throwing a Spear. Villa Stuck


Franz von Stuck created in the era of great artists and visionaries. Richard Wagner’s «The Ring of the Nibelung» set the standard for musical and theatrical works, hitting the roof. Karl Marx championed class struggle as the determinant of political and economic power.

Friedrich Nietzsche declared: «God is dead» and the revolution in philosophy. Charles Darwin reached the starting point in the past and discovered natural selection, which was to become the ruling power of existence. Sigmund Freud has penetrated into the mind and became the father of the psycho-analysis. In the second half of the 19th century, a bold thinking desperately tried to keep up with the rapid pace of technological progress that threatens to swallow human values. In painting still persisted representation of academic art and the approval of definite classical methods.

In France, Adolphe William Bouguereau idealizing mythological and pastoral motive was the well-known exemplar of salon academic art. Painting of Bouguereau and other, so-called painters of humanists is fine, but it is impossible to call it ingenious or incomparable. «Stepping back», the art ignored scientific, philosophical, social development era what artists of the new generation, who were considered informal and «alternative», tried to investigate and explore in according to their understanding.

The first Secession movement was formed in 1890 in France. The Munich Secession to which Stuck belonged was the second in Europe. It followed by the Berlin Secession and later the Vienna Secession, whose most famous member is Gustav Klimt. Munich painter’s works such as Albert von Keller, Gabriel von Max, and Franz von Stuck show similarities and essential distinctions. They considered liminal states but each of them was inspired in their own way.

In 1895, Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen discovered surprising X-rays in Würzburg. In 1900, he moved to teach to Munich, where his scientific revelation about transparency of a body inspired Keller, which painting counterbalances permeability of a flesh with a spirit materialization. This liminal state between physical and extrasensory he thoughtful in the biblical scenes of the resurrection, landscapes with a bright yellow aura, associated Keller with the spiritual realm.

Gabriel von Max was interested in infinitely thin membrane between life and death, but not affirming the existence of the individual spirit, he addressed the issues of awareness and oblivion, wakefulness and sleep. Von Stuсk, in some respects the most impudent of them of three, addressed to the theory of Darwin and interpreted classical plots with especial brutality. Just as Freud probed the darker sexual side of human psyche von Stuсk painted the wild side of human nature, marginal state between man and animal.

Classic images in Stuсk’s painting are many, his style is masterly, and he’s even less secessionist, being meanwhile the founder of the movement. But he is faithful to the ideals of the secession and does not apply to these images as the epitome of human beauty. The painter interprets familiar forms from many classical sources ambiguously. Even a very picturesque scene exposes dark and primitive, opposing them to carelessness of the academic art of the time. Bright to that an example is female images in his works. The Secessionists rejected aspects of the academic art, but for most male spectators woman represented the idealized image of the.

Stuсk put in female images startling control, will and authority and even when the woman in his works takes a traditional and decorative pose it is compensated by presence of the men competing for her attention. Stuсk painted many such paintings («The Duel», «The Struggle for Woman»), each treats the theme differently, but together taken they declare that the doctrine of Darwin «the strongest survives» and the sexual competition rules even the most «civil» society; men bear arms, and women bear armies.



The Struggle for Woman (Der Kampf ums Weib), 1905. Oil on panel, 90×117 cm. Hermitage Museum, in Saint Petersburg

Immodest depictions of «Sin» and «Sensuality» show the female form which is obviously tempting the spectator. «Sin» is one of the most powerful work of the painter which won to it glory and financial success. There are some versions of «Sin». The version of 1893 with some classical characteristics and in golden tone represents the dark-haired Eve invitingly inviting the spectator «to Bite the Apple», with pure passion without some rage.

The version of 1908, having many meanings, in greenish painful tone, shows conscious development of the painter everything farther from the academic art.

The snake draped around the shoulders of woman in «Sin» and rising from the woman’s loins in «Sensuality» is a phallic symbol and the direct offer to sexual communication. The snake which is among the desperate souls in «Inferno» with a spiteful grin looks directly at the viewer. Just as the woman for Stuсk becomes a figure representing civilization, the snake for him is chthonic, primary force, assuming a chaotic state; from it we arise, through art and Darwinian evolution which the painter was so fascinated. Franz von Stuck saw need have balance between ideal and instinctive, well understanding dark aspects of the last.



The Sin (Die Sünde), 1893. Oil on canvas, 94.5×59.5 cm. Neue Pinakothek, in Munich

«Most of my paintings feature a ‘he’ and a ‘she’. I would like to glorify the strength of man and the soft pliancy of woman. Even in my religious paintings, I seek to highlight the human aspect, that which is universally understandable. In my mind, a savage would be able to see that it is a noble man here who is nailed to the cross between two barbarians.»

Men in Stuсk’s works are not only the cat’s paw in hands of a woman or brute beasts. If the feminine form is the inspiration that is crying for change, the soul, the male form is the personification of active energy. In a portrait of «Samson» the divine athlete breaks off a jaw to a lion, and the spectator «hears» a crunch of bones. Both figure the painter paints equally motionless as rocky clump, representing the tangle of limbs with muscles in high relief. Stuсk interprets the biblical theme for Darwin.

In «The Fantastic hunting», two centaurs race across a long, horizontal canvas (one catches up with another, having wounded him fatally). The lateral composition suggests the speed and action. But also it reminds rock paintings, and modern spectator perceives it as cinema shots.



The Fantastic hunting (Phantastische Jagd), 1890. Oil on canvas, 74×184 cm. Museum Villa Stuck, Munich

The painter uses a long canvas in his art researches for different effects. In «Pieta», dead Christ (Stuсk represented himself) lies on a pedestal as in a crypt, but the composition offers inertia, the clenched arms and body showing strength even in death. The perpendicularity of Mary, who buried her face in her hands, reinforces balance between two gender visions divine, fastening their strength and their loss. Mary’s grief also shows in her aura, is so thin that it seems like it may burst at any time.

In «Golgotha», the mourners and crucified figures are dark, rough, merged with the darkened dead landscape. Thieves on both parties of Christ are visible not completely on forward and a background, but they hang over the earth while Christ’s feet are lowered on the earth and he almost falls before a look of the hidden witnesses.

Stuсk makes the divine available for understanding of the common people. He puts in this huge power or shows its weakness — and these are aspects of the people, but not something ultra-boundary. The civilization is still connected with the natural world in conscious balance of forces. When Stuсk shows this balance, it seems delicate and intense.

He also often shows opposing forces separately, in isolation from each other to enucleate their frightening strength and power. Dionysius (chthonic, wild, and instinctive) and Apollo (heavenly, ideal, and discreet) are two categories which Stuсk studied, allocated and united, constantly to them came back, including in the Villa. The Villa is created as the general work of art in which these forces have to be balanced as the temple devoted to human existence. The Villa is expression of individual skill of contradictory elements and forces within the boundaries of humanity. It includes the altars devoted to both dark and light aspects.

The theme of Stuсk’s works are based on religious plots and classical mythology, after the tradition opened by Arnold Böcklin, inspired by Freud’s theory, the concept of Darwin about an origin of the being, fight for existence in the nature and selection process. Large forms dominate in the majority of his paintings that shows his love to a sculpture. The character of «Sisyphus» has skin lighter than the surrounding landscape of the underworld, but the muscles of his body like boulders and rocks. Stuсk consistently does not change the meaning of the work of using paint; sometimes colors and forms coalesce in the darkness, and the shade is not the source that defines the boundary between the foreground and background of the composition, the flesh and stone.

In «Evening Star» the background completely absorbs kissing couple. A spiritual element — the star in the sky acting from a canvas — takes away a look from them. Humanity in work and tender passions is forever attached to a material world, is its emanation, but is touched by that call Divine.



Franz von Stuck’s masterpiece is «Lucifer».


The fallen angel is off center, with widely opened, pale, furious eyes gets through the spectators, hypnotizing them. They are as the light source of hot, magmatic, burning inside, as the sparks of the soul, cast into hell. In his muscular nudity he appears strong and courageous, but his head leaning against his left hand opens mind focused in thought, and this gesture allows you to see the status of searing sadness. He who laid down broken wings, reminiscent of his fall, but chewing revenge is the greatest symbol of the return order. Once divine, now demonic, once loved, and now the enemy, he sees the essence of humanity through material aspects and understands how it can be used to undermine the divine order.

Some painters, who understand the general idea, can turn it only in one masterpiece, but the true quality of a great painter is the ability to create whole worlds from a single idea. Franz von Stuck studied humanity, not only in heaven and hell, but here on Earth through biblical history, ancient myths and colorful traditions of Europe.

Unfortunately, not always great ideas analyzed correctly. Any list that includes Wagner and Nietzsche’s names runs the risk of being listed as a fascist ideology. Franz von Stuck’s art caught sight once to Adolf Hitler shortly after the painter died. Of course, Hitler saw in it only what he wanted to see, distorting its meaning for the sake of own purposes. On a twist of fate von Stuck joined after World War I requirements imposed to allies to forgive Germany for the sake of the cultural and art heritage perverted by Nazis two decades later. But if art again and again tells something to new generations, it means eternal truths which embodied Franz von Stuck. It is difficult to look away from his works which always strike with a powerful force of nature of the person.

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