National Art Gallery Exhibition Shows The Guardian of Paradise by Franz von Stuck for First Time

The painting The Guardian of Paradise, which forms part of the exhibition “Franz von Stuck. Between Light and Darkness” in the National Art Gallery Square 500, has not travelled for 25 years, Iaroslava Boubnova, Director of the National Art Gallery, told BTA at the exhibition on Thursday.

According to her, this is due to the painting’s historical significance for German art, the city of Munich, and the artist himself. The painting was created one year before another famous work called Lucifer, which is well-known in Bulgaria, Boubnova noted. She pointed out that with these two paintings, Franz von Stuck (1863-1928) depicts the two extremes of human nature and character; the good and evil, the positive and negative, adding that an internal dialogue can be observed in the author’s works this way. Boubnova said that in Bulgaria it was never really known what other paintings beside Lucifer were created by Franz von Stuck, which is why she decided to highlight this story of the two paintings at the exhibition. “The development of this idea is that both the satanic and the angelic are found in man at the same time. And it would be good for us to be aware of it and try to preserve the angelic,” she said.

In Bulgaria, Lucifer receives all kinds of epithets such as the most valuable and most expensive painting, Boubnova pointed out. She said that this is the case because the work is in demand and participates in many expositions around the world, having returned from a trip to Rome as part of an exhibition dedicated to the 700th anniversary of Dante Alighieri in 2022. The painting is also one of the first works of fine art to be donated to the National Museum, and arrived in the country thanks to Prince Ferdinand. “There was a myth that Ferdinand visited Franz von Stuck in his studio and bought this work there,” noted Boubnova. Citing German sources and newspapers, she said that it is clear that Ferdinand visited Munich for complex negotiations. “A large number of newspapers covered his visit. He went to meet the Krup company for arms orders, and also to find a bride,” Boubnova noted. At one point, an art consultant to Luitpold, the Prince Regent of Bavaria, introduced Ferdinand to a painting dealer who, since Stuck’s first success, had followed his career very closely and acquired his works for sale, recounted Boubnova.

Not much is known about the fate of the painting from its purchase until it ended up in the National Museum. “I suspect, without being able to prove it, that it was never publicly displayed by Ferdinand. I suppose that when he arrived in Bulgaria and converted to Orthodoxy, this picture was not useful to him, so to speak, in the context of his rulership ambitions and his conviction that he should be king of all Bulgarians”, noted Boubnova. The depiction of Lucifer is not common, which is why it became so famous in the first place, said Boubnova. At the same time, the work evokes contradictory reactions. Even before Prince Ferdinand bought the work, newspapers were writing about the fact that many people were extremely angry at the size of the painting, with such a large Lucifer staring at viewers and making them feel very uncomfortable, she said.

“For art historians around the world, the painting is very interesting precisely because it came into a private collection so early. The painting has not participated in many exhibitions, only few people have seen it”, said Boubnova, adding that this is the reason why the situation seems so curious in itself, especially now when they are showing the painting in the context it belongs to. She noted that Lucifer has gained popularity in the last few decades, with new photography technologies and with the painting travelling in exhibitions.


The exhibition “Franz von Stuck. Between Light and Darkness” shows paintings by the artist from the Villa Stuck museum in Munich and runs until October 13. It is the first presentation of the German symbolist in Bulgaria, whose scope exceeds the painting Lucifer. The project is supported by the Ministry of Culture and co-financed by the Lachezar Tsotsorkov Foundation. BTA is the media partner of the exhibition. The development of the project began in 2023, when the Villa Stuck museum suggested that The Guardian of Paradise visit Bulgaria.

“We plucked up courage and asked for more works”, said Boubnova. Alongside The Guardian of Paradise and Lucifer, the National Art Gallery Square 500 also displays other works by Franz von Stuck from this period, including his graphic self-portrait, the paintings Sin, The Body of the Dead Christ, Prometheus and Samson and the Lion. The paintings are part of the German cultural heritage and are state property owned by the Villa Stuck Museum. They are of high artistic value, and their insurance assessment is worth over EUR 7.5 million, according to a statement by the Council of Ministers, which decided to provide a state guarantee in mid-March of 2024.

Boubnova pointed out that the story of Franz von Stuck is a very rare case of a very successful and happy artist at the same time. “I don’t want to say that he was always happy. But still, his biography is outstanding in the history of art. All artists experience some kind of upswing, some incredible downfall, either economically or in their public image. But he belongs to some sort of a happy wave,” she noted. Stuck participated for the first time in a major international exhibition in Munich with his painting The Guardian of Paradise. “The painting caused great excitement and sold for a very large amount of money for its time. This is rarely how an artist’s biography begins,” Boubnova noted, adding that all his works caused scandalous interest from the public.

Franz von Stuck was the initiator of the Munich Secession, although he himself did not graduate from the Munich Academy, since he hardly attended lectures. Later he was invited to teach artists such as Wassily Kandinsky, Giorgio de Chirico, Paul Klee, Josef Albers, as well as the Bulgarian Kocho (Konstantin) Garnev. Around his 40th anniversary, he built his villa, now known as the Villa Stuck Museum. “It is saturated with his works, paintings, sculptures, the furniture he made. He did everything himself,” commented Boubnova, adding that the artist even made the frames for his paintings himself. “He was also one of the first people in Munich to get electricity, not to have better lighting, but to indicate the highlights of his work through the lights”, said Boubnova.

“Our goal is to promote the Villa Stuck”, noted Boubnova. In order to preserve the paintings, the exhibition hall is dimly lit. “Franz von Stuck experimented with the very technology of painting. In places, he uses oil paints, but also tempera,” she added. Most historical works were usually created in conditions of candles and gas lamps and that this topic is very much discussed in world museums. “It is very interesting that the modern viewer sees in the paintings what the artist did not intend to be seen,” Boubnova pointed out. According to her, what is shown in galleries and museums is important, but how it is shown is equally as important. “Our dream is to create an atmosphere closer to how the historical works were exhibited,” she said. “In part of the building of Kvadrat 500 we have already closed all the windows”, said Boubnova.

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