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Franz Stuck’s life is a story of rags to riches. A miller’s son, he advanced to be one of the most highly respected artists of his day. His princely lifestyle contrasted starkly with his modest beginnings, earning him the title Malerfürst [prince of painters].

As a child, Stuck showed precocious skill as a draughtsman. Unusually for a boy of his social rank, his talents were nurtured from an early age and he was sent to train at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Munich. After completing his training he enrolled at the Munich Academy. As an academy student in the years 1881-5 he produced humorous drawings for illustrated magazines and provided sketches for a portfolio titled Allegorien und Embleme. These works demonstrate a growing sensibility for ornamental effect and a penchant for highly imaginative mythological imagery, both of which were to form the bedrock of his artistic practice and bring him widespread recognition.

Stuck’s breakthrough came in 1889 when he was awarded a gold medal for a painting titled Der Wächter des Paradieses at the annual exhibition staged at the Munich Glaspalast. The painting, an idealized life-sized self-portrait, is now in the collection of the Museum Villa Stuck in Munich. As a founder member of the Munich Secession in 1892 he was able to exercise increasing influence in official artistic circles. His appointment as professor at the Munich Academy in 1895, coupled with the construction of a magnificent villa on Prinzregentenstrasse in 1897-8 elevated his social status. The building was built and decorated according to his own plans – an attempt to create his own ideal of the Gesamtkunstwerk through a symbiosis of architecture, painting and sculpture. He was ennobled in 1905.

Stuck’s importance lies in his unrivalled ability – as a draughtsman, painter and sculptor – to use his unerring decorative sensibility to break down the boundaries between fine and applied art. Echoing Arnold Böcklin and Max Klinger, his Symbolist imagery is filled with yearning for a world enraptured by beauty, between heroism and hedonism. Paintings like Die Sünde (Neue Pinakothek, Munich), Der Krieg (Neue Pinakothek, Munich) and Der Kuss der Sphinx (Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest) and sculptures such as Verwundeter Kentaur and Amazone are icons of early twentieth-century art – works whose aesthetic appeal and pulling power are still unabated.

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