Friday, January 18, 2019

The [Sacred] Art of Franz von Stuck

"The Guardian of Paradise."
Franz von Stuck. 1889.
(Villa Stuck, Munich)

Copyright © Edward Riojas

Some names in the art world simply don’t roll off the tongue like Rubens or da Vinci. There are many artists in history worth knowing, but most are relegated to the margins of our memory. Some have been simply forgotten. I stumbled across the name Franz von Stuck the other day but, like some long lost acquaintance, I simply couldn’t put a face – or, in this case, a painting – to the name.

I was struck by some of von Stuck’s unfamiliar work, but as I dug deeper I saw a very familiar painting. It was like finally recalling an old friend. “Oh, THAT’S who you are! I remember you!”

Franz von Stuck (1863-1928) was a German painter, sculptor, engraver, and architect who, from an early age, displayed great promise as an artist. Impressionism was well under way even when von Struck was a toddler, but other movements were also gaining steam. Realism was established, and Symbolism was attracting artists. Art Nouveau was a toddler in its own right. Von Stuck may have had great talent, but he was working in the shadows while folks like Monet and Degas were sharing the spotlight.
"Paradise Lost." Franz von Stuck.
1897. (Unknown location)

Von Stuck, however, had his day in the sun. His painting, “The Guardian of Paradise” – the painting which I immediately recognized – took the gold medal in 1889 at the Munich Glaspalast. Among later awards was a gold medal for painting given during the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. In 1906, he was awarded the Order of Merit of the Bavarian Crown – a bestowal of knighthood – and thereafter bore the name, Franz Ritter von Stuck.

Von Stuck became associated most closely with the Symbolism movement, and much of his work centered on Classical mythological themes. He did, however, produce works that can be labeled “sacred,” and “The Guardian of Paradise” is one such piece. His “Paradise Lost,” with its moody chiaroscuro, contrasts with the light and airy ‘Guardian.’
"Golgotha." Franz von Stuck. 1917.
(Brooklyn Museum, New York)

Other works by the artist show outside influences in stylized poses and compositions. His depiction of the Crucifixion of Christ, "Golgotha," is a little jewel that shows enough flavors of art movements during von Stuck‘s day that it is relatively easy to place it in time.

A depiction of Mary follows similar stylistic form, but the figure of Christ in the same “Pietà” departs from the formula. The result is a far cry from Michelangelo’s tender “Pietà,” and shouts a different reality of the dead Christ.

By the time of his death, von Stuck’s popularity was waning and he was already being regarded as old fashioned. The tide of modern art movements was unstoppable. Franz von Stuck, perhaps as we see his name, simply was “stuck” in the shadow of greater notoriety and more promising trends. His influence, however, was arguably as great a legacy as his own works. This is evidenced by a roster of students under von Stuck when taught at his alma mater, the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich. Names like Paul Klee, Josef Albers, and Wassily Kandinsky are not so soon forgotten. Neither is another artist who was strongly influenced by von Stuck – Gustav Klimpt.

"Pietà." Franz von Stuck. 1891. (Städel Museum, Frankfurt, Germany)

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