Von Stuck turned increasingly to sculpture in his later years and Helena is one of his most elegant compositions. The tragic figure of Helen was famed for her beauty but it was her abduction by Paris that sparked off a train of events that led directly to the Trojan War. Von Stuck depicts her in Ancient Greek costume wearing a peplos and headdress, reminiscent of the portrait of Mary (lot 49). The slightly provocative pose, with her right hand touching her chin, is partly inspired by the Antique Venus Pudicitia, a cast of which von Stuck had placed on the roof of his Villa. The gilding further adds to the sculpture's lustre and sets it apart from von Stuck's other sculptures.
Helena also relates to a painting that von Stuck executed in the same year (fig. 1). Helen is again depicted in the same pose, and von Stuck has added an intriguing inscription below the figure from Homer's Iliad, which reads:
TADELT NICHT DIE TROER UND HELLUMSCHIENTEN ACHAEER,
DIE UM EIN SOLCHES WEIB SO LANG AUSHARREN IM ELEND!
EINER UNSTERBLICHEN GOETTIN FUERWAHR GLEICHT SENE VON ANSEHN!
[Do not blame the Greeks who complain of their lengthy misery at the hands of such a woman! For she appears to be an immortal goddess!]
The character of Helen fits very well with von Stuck's fascination with femmes fatales. Ever since Die Sünde (various versions 1891-3) von Stuck explored ways of portraying women as dangerously alluring, yet vengeful creatures, reeking disaster on mankind. He frequently depicted Salome, with the head of John the Baptist and later in his career the story of Judith and Holefernes, where he depicts Judith in the act of beheading the sleeping general (see lot 51). Helena appears more serene and passive than either of these but nevertheless it is her beauty that led to the downfall of Troy, as von Stuck makes clear from the above inscription.