On view from July 1 to October 9, 2016 at the Lower Belvedere, the exhibition Sin and Secession – Franz Stuck in Vienna focuses on the unusual work of the German “painter prince” Franz von Stuck. Illustrating his connection to Vienna, in particular to the publishing house Gerlach & Schenk, the show also highlights his influence and importance as an initiator of the Secession in Vienna. Franz von Stuck’s scandalously erotic paintings, most notably the painting Sin, were both popular and controversial not only because of his choice of subject matter, but also because of his conceptual approach to image making and compelling designs, which set new standards for the look that would be associated with the Munich Secession (founded in 1892) – one that would be emulated by the Vienna Secession, founded five years later.
Stuck’s complex connection to Vienna has been mentioned in but few essays, and primarily with regard to Gustav Klimt. This is surprising, as Vienna’s Künstlerhaus provided the venue for Stuck’s first major solo exhibition in 1892. One year younger than Gustav Klimt, Stuck was a “shooting star” in his day and became well known early on with the folios Allegories and Emblems (1882) and Cards and Vignettes (1886) published by Gerlach & Schenk in Vienna.
“With the exhibition Sin and Secession. Franz von Stuck in Vienna, integrated with elements intertwined, we are showing Franz von Stuck’s work in graphics, painting, and sculpture, as well as his use of photography, to examine his diverse influences on Viennese art. The exhibition fills a gap and sheds fresh light on fin-de-siècle Vienna and its productive ties with Munich’s ‘painter prince’ Franz von Stuck”, says Agnes Husslein-Arco, director of the Belvedere and 21er Haus. The exhibition’s curator, Alexander Klee, adds: “The exhibition explores Stuck’s artistic development in a variety of ways, reaching from historic arts and crafts to art deco and symbolist painting. [It also] includes his roots in the new medium of photography in correspondence with the concurrent exhibition at the Belvedere, Inspiration Photography.”
Franz von Stuck – The Scandalous Painter Prince
Franz von Stuck’s Sin is the personification of the femme fatale at the end of the nineteenth century. The artist did not paint in tonal shades or in an academic, classical manner. The painting is instead characterized by bold contrasts of dark and light. The seductive, erotic woman and the serpent as the Biblical incarnation of sin irreverently fix their gazes on viewers and catch them in their voyeurism. At public exhibitions, Stuck’s Sin was regularly surrounded by crowds and was noted in contemporary literature, such as in works by Theodor Fontane, Thomas Mann, and Hans Carossa. The overwhelming emotional proximity of this and other compositions by Stuck meant that he gained early fame as a scandalous painter. His artistic breakthrough came in 1889 with the exhibition of his provocative chef d’oeuvre, The Guardian of Paradise.
The Vienna Connection and Paragon of Secessionists
The increased vibrancy of color coupled with stage-like backgrounds in Stuck’s work guided a new generation of artists along a path that would ultimately lead to the birth of Jugendstil. Stuck’s function as a role model for Vienna’s Secessionists has only been recognized in a few essays, which mainly prioritized Gustav Klimt. Nevertheless, his various connections to Vienna played a key role in his success and, in 1892, enabled his most comprehensive solo exhibition, at Vienna’s Künstlerhaus. With thirty-five oil paintings and 170 drawings, this exhibition must have struck like an artistic thunderbolt. Featuring almost all of Stuck’s key paintings up to that point, the scope of the 1892 exhibition gives an idea of the importance of – and the fascination with – Stuck’s artistic output. Even at this early stage, he was creating archetypes that as pictorial inventions could be understood surrogates for symbolism, such as Sin or his pan and faun figures, as well as Spear-Throwing Amazon, the only large-scale sculpture he executed. A hallmark of Stuck’s work is his reference to antiquity, recognizable in his representations of Pan playing music, Orpheus, or Dionysus.
Stuck’s tremendous impact on the Viennese art scene is also conveyed through the editorials of influential contemporary writers like Hugo von Hofmannsthal and Hermann Bahr. Franz von Stuck had a decisive influence on the visual identity of the Munich Secession, foremost with his highly recognizable signets which he used throughout the 1920s. A prominent example is the head of Minerva/Athena poster motif, which was also used on the letterhead for the Munich Secession and thereby became their trademark.
In contrast to Klimt, Stuck always had an affinity for classicism, as is evident, for example, in the Doric columns of his picture frames. The inclusion of the picture frame and its sculptural qualities is also a characteristic of the Vienna Secession, most obviously in the choice of the square picture format, frequently favored by Stuck.
Stuck and the Significance of the Gerlach & Schenk Publishing Company
Essential to the success and awareness of Stuck’s works outside of Germany were his graphic designs issued by the Viennese publishing house Gerlach & Schenk. Particularly noteworthy are the folios Allegories and Emblems (1882) and Cards and Vignettes (1886). Stuck’s influence on Viennese artists such as Koloman Moser, Rudolf Bacher, and Wilhelm List can be deduced from the folio Allegories – New Suite (1896, Gerlach & Schenk).
These folios, published in three languages, served as templates for arts and crafts and were distributed internationally. Not only do they illustrate the contemporaneous artistic influences and currents, they also provide evidence for the artistic transformation that took place between the release of Allegories and Emblems (1882–84) and Allegories – New Suite, published in 1896. The young strivers, Stuck and Klimt, had now become the grand idols of a new generation.
Stuck and the Landscape
The impact of Stuck’s work resonated with Viennese artists into the first decade of the twentieth century. The artistic presence of his highly respected landscapes, which are based on photographs, ultimately led the Moderne Galerie (today’s Österreichische Galerie Belvedere) to purchase his large Evening Landscape in 1930. The reception of the painting is mirrored in the works of Carl Moll, Rudolf Jettmars, and Adolf Hölzel. In 1917, the painting was sold once again and is now part of the collection of the Museum Folkwang in Essen.
Stuck’s landscapes not only attracted the interest of Viennese painters, but were also a source of inspiration for Viennese photographers such as Heinrich Kühn, Hugo Henneberg, and Hans Watzek.
The Sin and Secession – Franz Stuck in Vienna exhibition at the Lower Belvedere provides not only an extensive survey of Franz von Stuck’s creative work, with a focus on the period prior to 1900 – for the first time, this particular arrangement of Stuck’s work will emphasize his relationship with Vienna and the Gerlach & Schenk publishing house, honoring his importance as a driving force for Secessionism in Vienna.
Curated by Alexander Klee.