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Franz von Stuck (1863-1928) was the most renowned artist of the Munich Secession, a group of German artists who proclaimed themselves independent from the overweening Munich artists’ association. Just as the Munich Secession was overshadowed by the Vienna Secession, Franz von Stuck has been overlooked in favor of more flamboyant fin de siècle painters like Klimt, Ensor, and Munch. His work, however, was very much in the limelight during his day. He was feted and granted noble titles beyond any of his German art contemporaries and his lovely paintings deserve a long second look.
Von Stuck created classical pieces in which the gods, centaurs, and heroes are tinged with an uneasy modern sensibility. The monumental figures dwell in a sumptuous twilight world of uncertainty and temptation. The heroes take on a sick greenish tinge. Femme fatales lean forward with transmuting elixirs. Human hybrids rebel against demigods. They all struggle and scheme beneath a dark pall of beguilement as classical virtue and reason are undone by the wilder passions.
After the First World War, von Stuck’s artworks no longer seemed relevant to a generation shell shocked by the horrors of the conflict. Today, he is most remembered as a teacher and mentor to pupils who ripped up classical painting and took art in strange new directions. His most famous students were Paul Klee, Hans Purrmann, Wassily Kandinsky, and Josef Albers. Not only do I love von Stuck’s paintings for their own sulky beauty, I admire him for earnestly helping a group of pupils whose work was so alien from his own.