Franz von Stuck

November 18, 2009 at 5:44 pm (Uncategorized) (, , )

The paintings of the Bavarian artist, Franz von Stuck (1863-1928), are full of strange, mythological creatures, femme fatales, and allegorical figures.

Self-Portrait by Franz von Stuck

It is difficult to tell whether the Sphinx is kissing or devouring her male victim. His vulnerability and surrender, and her sexual aggression, are a marked reversal of traditional gender roles at the time, yet also display a fear of female sexuality.

Kiss of the Sphinx

A similar theme appears in Stuck’s allegory of Sensuality. Like the Sphinx, the female nude has her face obscured by shadow, and the eye is drawn to her breasts. The vast serpent twined around her body is reminiscent of Eve and the fall from Eden. It is at once compelling and disturbing.


This is one of my favourites. I really like how the lovers blend seamlessly into the darkening landscape.


Evening Star


The women’s dresses seem to be an extension of their bodies. They look almost like flames or flowing water.




This figure of Sin is very similar to Sensuality, right down to the vast serpent. Clearly, sin and sensuality are indicated to be one and the same.




A triumphant Salome dances, as John the Baptist’s head is exhibited in the background.


I’m not entirely sure how I feel about a lot of Franz von Stuck’s art. I’m drawn to it from an aesthetic point of view, and I like all the dark imagery, but I feel like it often represents ‘woman’ and ‘corruption’ as synonymous. I do realise that there was a lot of inherent sexism in the art and literature of the time, but I’m not sure that I like being beaten over the head with it quite so much. But then, perhaps I’m reading too much into it. I’d appreciate any thoughts on the subject.



  1. melmoth said,

    A few, brief thought’s on the matter then. The femme fatale, as you’re obviously aware, was a favourite motif in decadent art and literature; sex and death walk hand in hand throughout the syphilitic age. The image is not Von Stuck’s, as you say, but the Bible’s; The serpent is phallic of course, but more correctly represents knowledge- which is separation from God or ‘self’ consciousness. It is Eve who covets the serpent and throughout hundreds of years of Christian culture ‘woman’ and ‘corruption’ really were synonymous- right from the vitriolic hysterics of the church fathers. But Von Stuck’s women are threatening, sensually unrepentant and complicit. Esoterically the ‘sin’ is not sexual in nature but occult, the serpent corresponding to Lumiel or Baphomet and Eve corresponding to the initial baptism of wisdom. Besides, Von Stuck’s women get off lightly compared to Rops’ gowned corpses! But the woman is only a symbol- not of misogyny per se, but personally of the artist’s condition, be it fascination, enervation, etc, and exoterically of more arcanel mysteries. Another essential decadent Von Stuck is his ‘Lucifer’ which can be seen as addressing the male polarity of the fallen self.

    Just came across your excellent blog by the way and look forward to exploring it. Excuse my drunken ramblings!

    • Decadent Handbook said,

      Aw, thank you!

      Ugh, don’t get me started on Rops. I’m going to do a post on him eventually, but his work makes me really uncomfortable. I completely get what you’re saying about von Stuck. I know that there are femme fatales everywhere in the work of the Symbolists, and that for the most part it was a form of rebellion and a commentary on the archaic attitudes of the church, but for some reason his female figures unsettle me a bit. I don’t even know if I can explain why properly! And I found it weird that Sin and Sensuality were almost identical. I really should work harder at trying to separate my art criticism from my feminism – especially when it comes to the Decadent movement! Annoyingly enough, I had an image of his Lucifer, but WordPress wouldn’t let me upload it 😡 Stupid interwebs…

      • melmoth said,

        Rops, cultish figure that he is, is probably my favourite artist so I’ll look forward to that entry. Would I be right in supposing that the highly wrought erotic arabesques of Franz von Bayros also make you uneasy? Though, admittedly, his work hasn’t the demonic edge of Rops so maybe not.

        “Annoyingly enough, I had an image of his Lucifer, but WordPress wouldn’t let me upload it”

        That’ll make the superstitious tremble! 😉

        Feminist notions perhaps do not sit naturally within the decadent movement; but also perhaps they’re acknowledgment of the primal supremacy of female sexuality had value- a shift away from the traditional subjugation of the female to the subjugation of the male through his destructive compulsion. The femme fatales are always much more than simple sex objects even if they are inevitably incorporated into the fabric of a sort of decadent nihilism and spiritual stupefaction. And again in the movement there’s the implication of more sophisticated gender roles in Rachilde and Gautier as well as the concupiscent gender ambiguities in Lorrain and Wilde. Any move towards the recognition of complexity has to be positive even if draped in the refinements of neurosis and even if that complexity, aesthetically, becomes a sort of end in itself.

      • Decadent Handbook said,

        I completely agree. One of the things that initially attracted me to the Decadent movement was its rejection of the insipid ‘angel in the house’ motif that was so popular throughout the 19th century. And there are definitely degrees of progressive thinking concerning sexual binaries – I’ve always felt that Rachilde’s novels and short stories were feminist texts, and Gautier’s ‘Mademoiselle de Maupin’ is one of my all-time favourites. Overall, I feel like the movement allowed the representation of women in art to progress, by making them figures of (albeit negative) power. It’s good that they acknowledge that women do have sexuality at least!

  2. Sandra said,

    I’m fascinated by von Stuck’s work. Thanks for this blog.
    Here is my contribution :!/group.php?gid=298667600864&ref=ts

  3. @~ said,

    An interesting book on this subject is Idols of Perversity: Fantasies of Femine Evil in Fin De Siecle Culture by Bram Diijkstra

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