Research

 

 

 
Fig. 2. Salome, formerly at the Hessian State Museum, Darmstadt, lost since 1945
Fig. 3. Salome, Galerie Katharina Büttiker Art Nouveau–Art Déco, Zurich
Fig. 4. Photographic portrait study for Salome

Salome

The Gospels are the primary source for the legend of Salome. The crucial passage is Mark 6:23: Herodias, formerly married to Herod II and now the wife of his brother Herod Antipas, seeks revenge against John the Baptist, who criticized her second marriage. Her daughter Salome dances before them at a birthday party. Herod II, who lusts after his stepdaughter, offers her a reward: Whatsoever thou shalt ask of me, I will give it thee, unto the half of my kingdom (Mark 6:23). Herodias whispers to her daughter to demand the head of John, and Salome does as she is told. Stuck selects the moment of the veiled dance, which was also the climactic scene in Richard Strauss’s opera Salome (1905). A dark-skinned servant proffers John’s head on a platter. Salome, bathed in a cool light as she presents her body, smiles triumphantly (fig. 3).

Three versions

Stuck paints three versions of Salome in 1906: the work now at the Lenbachhaus (fig. 1), a version that has been lost since World War II (formerly in the Hessian State Museum, fig. 2), and a small painting now at Galerie Katharina Büttiker, Zurich (fig. 3). He often used photography to aid him in his work: we have three photographic full-body portrait studies of a model in costume (fig. 4).

 

 

 

 

Fig. 5. Several stars in Salome’s sky
Fig. 6
Fig. 7

Painting technique

Like many of painters of his time, Franz von Stuck prized technical innovation, and his technique evolved steadily throughout his career. Although multiple sources, including the Lenbachhaus itself, list Salome as a work of “oil on canvas,” the picture was actually painted in distemper, as is revealed by close visual inspection and indicated by an unequivocal note on the back. Numerous manufacturers sold a wide variety of distemper paints in tubes; among the advantages of distemper over oil paint is that it dries more rapidly after application, allowing for speedier execution of the picture. Made according to different recipes, distemper paints covered a broad spectrum of technical needs—different compositions and additives enabled the painter to produce softly luminous as well as oil-like glossy surfaces and even glazed finishes. Salome also invites speculation concerning the use of several different binder systems; for example, the stars turn out upon close examination to be individual structures composed of several layers (figs. 5–7).

Our research into Franz von Stuck’s painting technique is part of the German Research Foundation-sponsored project From Böcklin to Kandinsky: Painting techniques and analytical research on mixed binding media used in Munich tempera paintings around 1900 currently conducted at the Doerner-Institut of the Bavarian State Picture Collections in cooperation with The Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus and other institutions. For more information, see doernerinstitut.de/de/projekte/tempera/tempera_1.html

Restoration 2011–2012

In its present condition, the painting presents limited areas of finely textured bowl-shaped craquelure and various highly glossy non-original layers of waxy varnish as well as numerous incongruent retouches and extensive overpaintings. The development of craquelure, which is promoted by the physical tension that builds in the varnish layers, creates an imminent danger of paint loss, and so these areas require stabilization in meticulous work under the microscope. The decorative frame made by Irlbauer is in need of restoration as well. As the Lenbachhaus closes for renovations, the restoration department will undertake the complex project of restoring this eminent work of Munich art nouveau painting to ensure the painting is fit for presentation in time for the museum’s reopening.

2013–2014

The restoration of Salome occasioned extensive research in various fields. Our findings are detailed in a book published by the Lenbachhaus that examines the “Salome” theme from a wide variety of angles, online available here.


Picture credits and references

1 Bierbaum and Ostini, Franz von Stuck, 4th ed. (1924), 111.
2 Brandlhuber and Burs, eds., Franz von Stuck: Meisterwerke der Malerei (2009), 88.
3 Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus.
4 Birnie-Danzker, Pohlmann, and Schmoll gen. Eisenwerth, Franz von Stuck und die Fotografie (Munich, 1996), 68.
5–7 Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus und Kunstbau, Winkelmeyer and Päffgen.


I. Winkelmeyer