Celebrating the 150th anniversary of his birth, and the 120th anniversary of his American debut, the Frye is offering the first major United States exhibition of the work of Franz von Stuck. Von Stuck, a member of the Munich Secessionists, was a painter particularly favored by Charles and Emma Frye who included some of his key works in their collection.
The exhibition includes these seminal canvases as well as major loans from European and American museums. In addition to the paintings are etchings, pastels, illustrations, and photographs many of which show his architectural and design concepts. His elegant design aesthetic is evident also in the frieze running just below the gallery ceilings. It is a reproduction of the one von Stuck had in his own house Villa Stuck in Munich, now a museum.
Franz von Stuck is an artist we don’t see often today. Most of his paintings are dark, brooding images. While the somewhat earlier Impressionists stood in fields and gardens, painting out of doors, capturing the brightness of the sun and the colors of the natural world, von Stuck was looking inward, painting in his studio as he explored the human psyche and the myths and religious concepts that were part of the Western tradition.Outstanding among these works is “Sin” (owned by the Frye), a depiction of a sensuous, partially shrouded naked woman with a snake writhing up her arm, around the back of her neck and facing the viewer with its fangs exposed. The imagery here shows the enormous influence of Sigmund Freud’s thinking on von Stuck.
Another compelling work on exhibit is “Lucifer.” Again the canvas is dark. The fallen angel can scarcely be distinguished, but his eyes peer out with an intensity that’s haunting. This is one of the paintings that seems influenced by two of the other intellectuals of the day, Wagner and Nietzche. “Lucifer” is on loan from the National Gallery for Foreign Arts, Sofia, Bulgaria.
Curated by the Frye’s Director, Jo-Anne Birnie Danzker, this exhibition and the accompanying catalog bring a whole new and exciting level of scholarship to von Stuck’s work. Danziker’s meticulous study provides new understandings, and the exhibit presents a full range of von Stuck’s artistic and intellectual talent.
Through Feb. 2, Frye Art Museum, 704 Terry Ave. Seattle, free admission and parking, (206 622-9250 or fryemuseum.org)