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Villa Stuck

A living testament to the Munich artist Franz von Stuck

Villa Stuck 276x
Along with the Stadtmuseum (Jakobsplatz) and the Lenbachhaus (Luisenstr./Königsplatz), the Villa Stuck (Prinzregentenstr. 60, near the Friedensengel) is one of Munich’s three municipal museums. Despite often being compared to the Lenbachhaus, the Villa Stuck distinguishes itself in at least one important way: the former was commissioned by Franz von Lenbach from a well-known architect, Gabriel von Seidl; the Villa Stuck, on the other hand, was designed by Franz von Stuck—including its interior and furniture—as a total work of art, called Gesamtkunstwerk in German.
In other words, the building and its contents were the artwork. This is a tradition Franz von Stuck had adopted from other artists, such as William Morris and Henry van de Velde, who were not just painters, but designers, architects and sculptors as well. It was not until after Stuck died that the building was transformed into a museum that is home to his works as well as those of other artists.

Franz von Stuck was born in 1863 on the northern outskirts of Munich to a Catholic family of farmers and millers. By the time he was 6 years old he had already started sketching caricatures of local villagers. At the age of 8 he was sent to Munich to study art until he was 18, when he entered the Academy of Fine Arts. After completing his education he earned his living as an illustrator for various publishers, magazines and newspapers, including Munich’s Die Jugend (Youth) magazine and the Fliegenden Blätter (Flying Pages), where he worked in house from 1887 to 1892. As a participant in the Munich Glaspalast (glass palace) exhibition in 1889 he received a gold medal for his painting Der Wächter des Paradieses (The Guardian of Paradise), and walked away not only with 60,000 Gold Marks in prize money but also a place among the early Symbolists of his time. In 1892 he co-founded the Secession in Munich and in 1893 won a gold medal at the Chicago World’s Fair for his painting Die Sünde (The Sin).

In 1895 he took a position as a professor at the Academy of Fine Arts, where he had once studied, and his class was visited by none other than Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky, central figures of the Blue Rider artists’ group in Munich. It was during this time that he had the Villa Stuck built, demonstrating his extraordinary abilities in design, sculpture, interior decoration and architecture. The furniture designs he created for the villa won him yet another gold medal, at the 1900 World’s Fair in Paris. In 1906 he was knighted as Franz Ritter von Stuck. His Symbolist paintings, including many sensual nudes, combine a linear style with an erotic flare and were direct precursors to Art Nouveau, while the villa itself is a monument to a diverse range of styles. Stuck was liberal in his borrowing of elements from not only the late 19th century, but also from Antiquity, Byzantium, the Orient and the High Renaissance. He did not fail, however, to infuse the building’s interior and exterior with his own personal style. It is said that he was influenced by Arnold Böcklin’s painting Villa by the Sea, which Stuck realized here in landlocked Munich. He even traveled with Otto Heilmann, the construction company owner commissioned with the project, to the ruins of Pompeii in order to study the styles that prevailed in that ancient city.

In 1913, at the height of his artistic success and fame, Stuck decided to build a studio next to the villa. Completed in 1914, it was double the size of the existing structure and contained two stories. The first floor was for sculpture and the second, with its 16.5-meter-wide, 7-meter-high dome was used for painting. Unfortunately, with the outbreak of World War I Stuck stopped creating sculptures, so this vast addition was never put to full use. Originally cast and placed in the back garden of the villa, one of Stuck’s most famous sculptures, Amazon Throwing a Spear, now stands at the entrance and is the main icon of the house. The piece is actually a second copy of the original, which was commissioned by the Art Society of Cologne.

Overall, the villa is laden with symbolism and works from the artist, including reliefs of godly processions leading to the studio, the proverbial “Sanctuary of the House.” World War II naturally took its toll on the house and many sculptures were destroyed. Among those lost were four larger-than-life replicas of antique figures that once stood on the roof’s edge overlooking the street. The bronze door in the main portal features a wide-mouthed Gorgon, a Greek mythological creature (one of which was Medusa) that was formerly used as a mail slot.
Franz von Stuck, one of the last remaining “art princes,” died on August 30, 1928. His house remains a living testament to the man and the artist.

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© MF White/May 04

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