I’m going to assume, since you’re here, that you’ve at some point experienced a piece of artwork that stopped you in your tracks. A piece that encouraged you to look and keep looking until you could SEE.
A friend of mine once sent me a text containing a painting by Franz von Stuck, a symbolist painter, sculptor, and teacher who lived and worked in Germany during the turn of the 20th century, and I was immediately obsessed. I’ve since spent countless hours enjoying Stuck’s work, so I’d thought I’d share my obsession.
To me, the work of von Stuck is reminiscent of Gustav Klimt, another early art love of mine, only darker. While Klimt’s gilded subjects are often joyful and serene, the work of Stuck tends to depict the darker aspects of our psyche. Stuck’s work bridged the old and the new. He painted subjects from mythology, but in a way that felt totally modern. His paintings often featured one central figure rendered in a bold and sculptural style. His women especially were strong, confident, and defiant.
His most famous painting, The Sin, which debuted at The Met in 1909 was inspired by Dante’s Inferno and the descent into Hell. It shows the bare, luminous torso of woman who is meant to be Eve draped by the body of a large, black snake.
The head of the serpent rests just over the breast of the woman with his mouth agape and fangs visible. Both the snake and the woman are looking directly at the viewer, but the it’s the face of the snake that is fully in the light. The woman’s face is in shadow with only the bright whites of her eyes drawing your gaze up and into her face. The attitude of the woman is not one of fear. She seems comfortable being embraced by this creature. Her attitude is one of confidence and her face is calm, almost smiling. She’s mysterious. Inviting. It’s the snake who acts as a warning. It’s the snake who cautions the viewer to keep their distance. It’s that attitude of the woman that draws me in. That she’s so comfortable with the darkness. She’s accepted it. It’s a part of her. Not to mention that Stuck is a master of saying much with very little. The Sin is a painting with a limited color palette, little fine detail, and, yet, it is still arresting. It’ll stop you where you stand. She’s daring you to look.
I think that’s what I’m drawn to most in his work. His depiction of humanity. Our ability to hold both good and evil, to be bold and humble, to be dishonest and still honor the truth.
I hope you’ll take some time to peruse this small gallery of some of my favorite Von Stuck pieces. Or better yet, go explore, and find a few favorites of your own!