Franz Stassen

by Tolovaj

Who was Franz Stassen? What is so special about his paintings and illustrations?

Franz Stassen (1869-1949) was somehow controversial German painter and illustrator who excelled especially in the fields of folklore and mythology. During his career, he painted numerous paintings and illustrated dozens of books yet he created a lot more. He also designed posters and postcards, sketched stage settings, created tapestries, and even designed documents. While his legacy is tarnished by his political views we can't deny his talent, skills, and adaptability to the always unpredictable market.

Here are just 10 ways how Franz Stassen earned his money:

1. Still Life

Paintings of still life have been popular for centuries. There were many cases where artists and critics announced that this work of art was out of fashion but since the end of the 16th century somehow always managed to return, although often in redefined shape.


Most big names among painters made at least some still life during their career and young artists followed their example, if nothing else, for the experience itself. Of course, still life was popular among customers too, so it was ordered pretty often, right after the portraits.

Franz Stassen was not a fan of still life paintings which are by definition in striking contrast with mythological themes. Yet I managed to find one piece with his signature in 1935 which popped in the auction more than a decade ago. I believe there are many more still-life paintings by Stassen in private collections. They are just not very attractive to a wider audience, so the possible price at selling doesn't motivate the owners to part with them.

2. Landscapes

Painting landscapes is a must for any artist from the very beginning. Many stayed faithful to portraying nature scenery to the end of their careers, others just incorporated everything learned from landscape painting into their later work.

Franz Stassen was not a very prolific landscape painter but we can recognize his sense of composition and understanding of light and colors in the background of his mythological paintings.


3. Book illustrations

One of Stassen's favorite themes was mythology with an emphasis on Wagner's work (he was a personal friend of Richard's son Siegfried) and a large part of his earnings came from everything related to Nibelung.

The other leading theme in his work was fairy tales. Grimms' tales, of course, played a crucial part in this area, like at so many other German artists. He loved to portray fantastic scenes with characters in dramatic, expressive positions.


4. Ex Libris

Ex libris (Latin: from the books) is a decorative piece of paper or cardboard, used to show the name of the owner and often placed in the book at the position where the reader was interrupted. For some time, it was very fashionable to have a personalized ex libris designed by an established artist. Members of the higher class ordered them to impress friends, not necessarily because they were avid readers.

Franz Stassen designed many ex libric and we can find them today in museums in several European countries. Do you recognize the piper below?


5. Picture Postcards

Picture postcards were extremely popular in the first half of the 20th century. The fast development of printing techniques led to the rapid growth of publishing companies that were offering all kinds of cards to customers. Competition forced them to hire better and better artists and Stassen was again at the right time at the right place.


This postcard, for instance, was made as a greeting card for the new year. Postcards soon became collectible items with millions of collectors at the peak of their popularity.

6. Designs

Not only postcards, but other paper products became collectible too. Even chocolate wrappers. Don't be surprised before you are fully informed. Stollwerck company, for instance, for decades commissioned top artists and designers to make pictures for the wrappers of its chocolate. Each year new series came on the market with accompanying albums for collectors.

Franz Stassen was just one of many. His designs were, as expected, inspired by Germanic mythology.


7. Posters

Posters are another medium that became popular in the 20th century. Today's posters are mainly based on photography but in Stassen's time provided a nice source of income for skilled artists. If they had the right connections, even better.

Franz Stassen's relationship with Siegfried Wagner, who took over the organization of the events in Bayreuth from his mother Cosima definitely helped him to enter the colossal business built around Richard Wagner's legacy. Wagner's fantasy world was presented not only on stage but also reinterpreted in books, posters, postcards, and other ephemera, which all brought a lot of opportunities to Stassen.


8. Certificates

We rarely think about it, but every piece of paper can use some help of art and design, from stationary to wine lists, from stamps to beer mats. Diplomas, certificates, and similar documents with more or less official meaning are no exception.

Franz Stassen made this patronage certificate for the festival in 1922 as an art piece on its own.


9. Sheet Music illustrations

No, musical notes are not reserved for musicians only. They can be published together with libretto to present the story to musical illiterates too. Stassen expanded such presentations even further. With his signature dramatic illustrations, of course


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10. Tapestries

The rise of Nationalism in Germany redefined many aspects of everyday life. Classic stories were rewritten, plays adapted, and buildings redecorated. When Adolf Hitler became a chancellor, he wanted to put new tapestries in the assembly hall of the Reich Chancellery. He ordered four scenes from the Germanic epic of Edda and Franz Stassen with his references from Beyreuth, together with membership in NSDAP as the leading party in the country, was an obvious choice.


As we can see, Franz Stassen didn't lack talent and skills. The question is still how much would he accomplish in given circumstances if he wasn't hanging with the most influential and powerful people.



Updated: 10/28/2023, Tolovaj
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Tolovaj 17 days ago

I don't know how many still life paintings he made. When he became successful probably none. He earned way more by commisions from Bayreuth and by portraits. This still-life was sold, if I remember correctly, for about 300 or 400 hundred Euros.

Tolovaj 17 days ago

His signature is composed from F and St.

Tolovaj 17 days ago

In my opinion art should always reflect the situations in present but offering the answers which are universal. By default, art should be a critic, no matter what political option is temporarily n power.

DerdriuMarriner 18 days ago

The 20th and the 21st centuries are not always accurate about whom they extol.

A question that I have about Franz Stassen is whether or not he jumped or was pushed politically. It would have been uncomfortable to be an artist in politically strident times, correct?

DerdriuMarriner 18 days ago

The second image, between the second and the third facts, Landscapes and Book illustrations, has the Stassen signature in the lower right corner.

What is the mark that appears third, after F for Franz and S for Stassen?

DerdriuMarriner 19 days ago

This is somewhat related, somewhat unrelated because it's about Franz Stassen, but not as an artist.

Might you have heard of the Unitedstatesian politician Harold Stassen? The latter must have made a record number of unsuccessful runs for the presidency in the 20th century.

Family historians say that the ears show sometimes whether or not someone is related. Franz and Harold Stassen showed the same configuration -- with the outer rim growing noticeably inward about halfway between highest and lowest reaches --- for their right ears and the same configuration -- straight outer rim -- for their left ears.

Would you happen to have come across anything about the two 20th-century Stassen men as being related?

Unitedstatesian sources only write of the Harold Stassen genealogy as son of a German mother and of a Czech and German father. They write the last name as originally Dutch, nicknamed for Eustathius.

DerdriuMarriner 19 days ago

Your first fact, about Stassen still lifes, divulges your finding an auctioned, signed Stassen still life from 1935.

Was there any indication as to what the price was, who the owner was and who the purchaser was?

DerdriuMarriner 20 days ago

The first fact focuses upon still life even as that fact furnishes Stassen as not one of its enthusiastic advocates or practitioners.

There must be some inventory of the total number of Stassen artworks and of their representation in each art category, correct?

How many of his artworks were still lifes (probably way more than he liked ;-D!)?

DerdriuMarriner 21 days ago

The first image, of the still-life flowers and fruits, indicates that Stassen indeed had an understanding of how edibles arrange themselves naturally and of how they drape under human influences.

It's a bit amusing to me to see all these white cloths upon which fruit containers lie.

How little, how much time might go by before the moisture from the berries and fruits would stain the table cloths in most un-artistic, un-attractive ways not at all appealing to being crushed into drinks or eaten as is?!

DerdriuMarriner 22 days ago

Online sources are not in agreement as to the origins and the types of still-life art.

Some sources categorize still life as of blooms, meals, symbols and wildlife.

Does Franz Stassen's still-life art fit into certain categories, for certain purposes?

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