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June 1996

Franz von Stuck: Living Images

The Villa Stuck presents an exhibit detailing the life and works of its creator, Franz von Stuck

In the winter of 1965, local architect Hans Joachim Ziersch made a fascinating discovery in a Bogenhausen Villa he had bought for restoration. In the coal cellar of the bomb-damaged home, Ziersch found a basket stuffed with old photographs and sketches done on transparencies. The significance of the photographs lies in their ownership: the house being restored was the Villa Stuck, home of Munich artist Franz von Stuck from 1897 until his death in 1928. By January of 1968, the restoration was being completed in preparation for the Museum Villa Stuck's opening exhibit. In a corner of the basement, workers found a veritable treasure trove stuffed in a garbage can: 95 large-format photos, portrait studies and von Stuck's own building plans for the villa. The opening exhibition had already been planned and included a small number of the previously found photographs, but it was too late to include all but a small portion of the new find in the exhibit. In 1992, Jo-Anne Birnie Danzker, the new Villa Stuck director, began planning the current exhibit, but what had started out as a straightforward project turned into a massive research effort lasting three years. After the initial discovery, the von Stuck photographs were handed over to the Stadtmuseum. Birnie Danzker's staff eventually tracked down more than 1,000 von Stuck photographs from around the world; over 300 have been chosen for the exhibit. Von Stuck was mainly a painter of portraits in the Jugendstil prevalent in Munich at the turn of the century. His artistic career spanned roughly 40 years from his 1887 work as a caricature artist, to his professorship at the Munich Akademie (his students included Kandinsky and Klee), through his fame as one of Munich's best-known painters. Born in the Bavarian town of Tettenweis in 1863, von Stuck moved to Munich in1878 for his art education and stayed here until his death of a heart attack in 1928. In 1897, he married Mary Lindpainter, the American widow of a Munich doctor, and began planning and building the villa. He lived there with his wife and daughter, Mary-born illegitimately to a baker's daughter in 1896-until his death. Familial relations had been on the decline before von Stuck's death, and his wife, who possibly suffered from cancer, died a short 12 months later. The distraught daughter abandoned the villa and ist works, and the house remained part of the von Stuck estate until purchased in 1965. The current exhibit focuses on the influence and use of photography in von Stuck's work. He had a film developing laboratory in the villa's basement and most of the photographs exhibited were taken in the villa-many by von Stuck's wife. The photographs significant to the exhibit are the portraits von Stuck used as a base for his paintings, adding his own vision to produce paintings full of texture and subtlety. While many of von Stuck's portraits lack the individuality of a specific character and rely instead on the portrayal of an idealized image, von Stuck's paintings based on photos show a distinct combination of the subject's individuality with von Stuck's artistic idealization of the image. The exhibit's catalog, published in German by Munich's Prestel-Verlag and selling for DM 48, is amply and beautifully illustrated, documenting both von Stuck's life and his work. Like the exhibit itself, the catalog reveals that there was more to the man than his somber, strait-laced appearance might suggest. Many of the photos evince von Stuck's sense of humor, and the photos of him taken by his wife, Mary, are sometimes startlingly erotic. - The exhibit runs through July 7.

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