An Introduction to Ernst Fuchs

Daniel Mirante

Added on September 9, 2023

Ernst Fuchs was an extraordinarily talented and multifaceted Austrian artist born on February 13, 1930. He was a master of several mediums including painting, drawing, printmaking, and sculpture, and he also ventured into architecture, stage designing, poetry, and singing. Fuchs was a pivotal figure in the Vienna School of Fantastic Realism. His legacy places him as one of the pivotal founders of contemporary visionary art and one of the great preservers and reinvigorators of the timeless legacy of sacred art.

Triumph of the Unicorn, Ernst Fuchs
Triumph of the Unicorn, Ernst Fuchs

Early Life and Education

Ernst Fuchs (1930-2015) was born in Vienna as an only child. His father, Maximilian Fuchs was the son of an orthodox Jewish family, turned down a career as a Rabbi and married a Christian woman. When the Nazis occupied Austria in 1938, Maximilian emigrated to Shanghai. Ernst Fuchs early childhood years were spent in an increasingly turbulent Austria as the Nazi party rose to power. Through a series of protections including his mother’s initative to baptise him as a Roman Catholic, he escaped the most intense persecution.

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During his teenage years, he embarked on his artistic journey, initially studying sculpture under Emmy Steinbock in 1943. He moved on to attend the St. Anna Painting School in 1944.

University Education

When Fuchs entered the Akademie der Bildenden Künste (the Academy of Fine Arts) in Vienna in 1945, he began his studies under Professor Robin C. Anderson. However, it was his subsequent move to the class of Albert Paris von Gütersloh that would leave a lasting impression on his work. Under Gütersloh’s mentorship, Fuchs was encouraged to explore the technical mastery of the old masters, a journey that led him to delve into Max Doerner.

Max Doerner was renowned for his deep understanding of historical painting techniques, which he elucidated in his book “The Materials of the Artist and Their Use in Painting.” This guide became an essential resource for artists looking to explore the meticulous techniques employed by the Renaissance masters, among others. By advising Fuchs to study Doerner’s teachings, Gütersloh helped to steer Fuchs on a path that would see him revive ancient techniques, such as the mischtechnik—a method involving the layering of egg tempera and oil glazes to achieve deep luminosity and intricate details. This advice set the stage for Fuchs to explore and eventually master a technique that would become central to his artistic style.

The Spirit Of Mercury, 1954, 62×47 cm by Ernst Fuchs
The Spirit Of Mercury, 1954, 62×47 cm by Ernst Fuchs

The Vienna School of Fantastic Realism

1945 was also the pivotal year when Fuchs met other like-minded young artists whom were attending the Academy around the same period. Their shared interest in fusing the boundaries of reality and dream, tradition and innovation became the cornerstone of their alliance.

These artists include:

The founding members of this movement were:

  • Ernst Fuchs: A pivotal figure in the movement, Fuchs mastered and innovated the mischtechnik, a traditional method of painting that involves layering oil and tempera to achieve rich, detailed, and vibrant artworks. His works often explore themes of religion, mythology, and dreams.
  • Arik Brauer: An artist who brought into his canvas a rich world of fairy tales, Jewish mysticism, and socio-political commentary. Brauer’s works are known for their meticulous details and vibrant colors, representing a harmonious fusion of the real and the surreal.
  • Rudolf Hausner: Often considered the “psychic realist,” Hausner’s work leans heavily towards the exploration of the human psyche. His Adam series, where he portrays himself as Adam navigating a world of surreal imagery, is particularly renowned.
  • Wolfgang Hutter: Hutter’s artworks are magical gardens of dreamy landscapes, mystical creatures, and vibrant flora, showcasing a harmonious blend of reality with fantasy. His work is known for its rich detail and surreal, almost storybook-like compositions.
  • Anton Lehmden: Lehmden ventured into the realms of fantastical landscapes, depicting earth’s elements in a swirling, dramatic manner, often portraying the cosmic dance of natural forces in his canvases with a rich, evocative palette.

In 1946 the collaboration took a formal turn when Fuchs co-founded the Art-Club. This club became a pivotal meeting ground for artists, intellectuals, and people from the cultural sphere to discuss and disseminate new ideas.

At that time we did not consider this the founding of a new school. I just had a circle of friends that still exists, my colleagues, a brotherhood of like-minded people. A small group of 5-7 people who felt it was important that, along with the idea of ​​reality that each of us has before our eyes, another world could exist.

Ernst Fuchs interviewed by M. Zhuravleva, Vienna, Austria

It was later however that the term  ‘Phantastischer realismus’ and “The Vienna School of Fantastic Realism” was coined and applied to these artists by the art historian and critic Johann Muschik in the 1950s.

Eva Cristina
Eva Cristina by Ernst Fuchs

Mount Zion, Jerusalem

The period starting 1957 marked a pivotal phase in Ernst Fuchs’ artistic journey. This period of intensive learning and self-exploration found a physical home at the Dormition Abbey, a Benedictine community located on Mount Zion in Jerusalem, a place rich with history and religious significance. During his residency at the Dormition Abbey, Fuchs initiated the monumental work of art depicting the “Last Supper”. Alongside the “Last Supper,” Fuchs was also creating smaller religious-themed paintings, delving into deep spiritual narratives from the Christian doctrine, including works portraying Moses and the Burning Bush. These artworks often showcased Fuchs’ skill in creating deeply symbolic and intricate works, merging his rich understanding of religious symbolism with his artistic vision. These pieces echo with the meticulous attention to detail and the vibrant, luminescent quality born of the mischtechnik.

Cherub by Ernst Fuchs

Architectura Caelestis: Die Bilder des verschollenen Stils

In 1962 Fuchs returned to Vienna with a vison of the “verschollener Stil” or “The Hidden Prime of Styles”. This is a significant concept that Ernst Fuchs introduced in his 1966 book, “Architectura Caelestis: Die Bilder des verschollenen Stils”.

The title itself, which translates to “Celestial Architecture: The Images of the Lost Style,” hints at a transcendent mode of artistic expression, a kind of primal and universal style or language in art, one that transcended individual schools of art and epochs, aiming to reveal profound universal truth through the medium of art. As his colleague Arno Breker commented

In him one sees a culture of a three thousand year old heritage that he represents in his works. The earliest beginnings of western culture in the two-river country of Mesopotamia, that of the Babylonians and of the Assyrians, are present in him just as are classical Greece and the medieval mysticism of the Kabala. 

“ERNST FUCHS”- by Arno Breker (

Through the visual content and accompanying texts in the book, Fuchs emphasizes the importance of symbols, archetypes, and myth in art. He points towards the belief that there is an eternal artistic language that has been obscured or lost over time, and through certain artistic practices, one can retrieve or reconnect with this hidden tradition.

  1. Resurgence of Old Techniques: One of the ways Fuchs sought to reconnect with the “verschollener Stil” was through his use of ancient and often forgotten techniques, like the mischtechnik. By using these methods, Fuchs believed he could achieve the luminosity and depth seen in the works of the Old Masters, thereby connecting with the sacred quality he believed was embedded in such techniques.
  2. Mysticism & Symbolism: Fuchs was not just interested in the techniques of the past, but also in their mystical and symbolic content. Drawing from sources like alchemy, Jungian psychology, and various religious traditions, Fuchs infused his works with layers of meaning, attempting to tap into the universal truths and archetypes that he believed were central to the “verschollener Stil.”
  3. Counterpoint to Modernism: The 20th century, particularly the period when Fuchs was most active, saw a strong shift towards abstraction, minimalism, and other modernist styles in art. Fuchs’ emphasis on the “verschollener Stil” can be seen as a counterpoint or even a reaction against these trends. Where modernism often sought to break from the past, Fuchs aimed to reconnect with it, finding depth and meaning in ancient traditions and styles.
Anti-Laokoon by Ernst Fuchs
Anti-Laokoon by Ernst Fuchs

Otto Wagner Villa in Hütteldorf

In 1972, Fuchs took the task of saving the deteriorating Otto Wagner Villa in Hütteldorf, Vienna. Before diving into Fuchs’ restoration, it’s important to note the background of the villa. The Otto Wagner Villa was designed by the eponymous Otto Wagner, a leading Austrian architect who played a pivotal role in the Art Nouveau movement. By the time Fuchs acquired the villa in 1972, it had seen years of neglect and required considerable restoration. Recognizing its architectural importance, Fuchs took upon himself the monumental task of restoring it. Fuchs crafted wallpaper, stained glass, curtains, furniture and statues and arrayed his masterworks for display in the Villa. One of his noted sculptures from around this period is “Queen Esther” who stands prominently on the front terrace. The culmination of Fuchs’ efforts was the inauguration of the villa as the Ernst Fuchs Museum in 1988.


Ernst Fuchs’ Klagenfurt Project

Background and Inception

In the later stages of Ernst Fuchs’ career, he embarked on one of his most ambitious projects, transforming a chapel in Klagenfurt, Austria. This project, known as the “Apocalypse Chapel,” commenced in 1992 and stretched for several years.

Work Detail and Technique

The primary focus of this endeavor was to adorn the chapel with frescoes depicting scenes from the Apocalypse or the Book of Revelation, the last book in the Christian Bible. A fresco is a technique where the artist paints on wet plaster, allowing the artwork to become an integral part of the wall as it dries, showcasing rich and vibrant colors. Fuchs, known for his mastery of historical painting techniques, employed this to give life to the biblical narratives in a visually arresting manner.

Completion and Inauguration

After years of meticulous work, the chapel was completed and opened to the public in 1997. The space offered a vibrant depiction of apocalyptic scenes, drawing from the vivid imagery present in the Book of Revelation.

Ernst Fuchs’ Illustrated Bible

In 1996 a ‘gold ingot’ Bible was published by The Pattloch Publishing House in Augsburgk, containing 80 illustrations by Ernst Fuchs. The deluxe edition of the Fuchs Bible measures approximately 29 x 20 centimeters and is housed in a hand-worked, gold-decorated slipcase. It was created not just as a religious tome but also as a collector’s piece. The book was bound in calfskin and covered with a gold folium to emphasize the value of this “most valuable treasure of humanity”. “With this, I am transforming the profane covetousness of men for gold into a yearning for what is holy, into reverence for the great Mystery…” ( The international circulation for the deluxe edition was about 20,000 copies.

The Vienna Academy of Visionary Art

With the internet democratizing art dissemination, Fuchs’ apprentices went on to establish educational frameworks for the ‘hidden style’ and mischtechnik to seek a revival of the ‘Art of Painting’. VAVA (Vienna Academy of Visionary Art) was founded by Laurence Caruana and Florence Menard and a wider group of Fuchs previous apprentices and students. This institution ran for a few years alongside Fuchs Atelier in the Palais Palfy, adjoining the Phantasten Museum. This academy and other projects working in parallel educated a new generation of artists in the mischtechnik and other visionary art techniques and harnessed the internet’s power to widen its reach. As a result, the influence and legacy of Fuchs and his teachings spread globally, ensuring that his legacy and the legacy of the Vienna School of Fantastic Realism has widespread reach.


Fuchs passed away in 2015, having bequeathed to humankind a rich legacy not just of a wide array of artistic creations, but a whole art movement.

Biographical Timeline


  • 1930: Ernst Fuchs is born on February 13 in Vienna, Austria.


  • 1943: Begins studying sculpture with Emmy Steinbock.
  • 1944: Attends the St. Anna Painting School and studies under Professor Fröhlich.
  • 1945: Enrolls at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. Starts under Professor Robin C. Anderson and later transitions to the class of Albert Paris von Gütersloh.
  • Mid-1940s: Meets fellow artists Arik Brauer, Rudolf Hausner, Wolfgang Hutter, and Anton Lehmden at the Academy.
  • 1946: Co-founds the Art-Club.
  • Late 1940s: His work starts reflecting influences from renowned artists like Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, and others.
  • 1949-50: Begins work on “Psalm 69,” which he would complete over a decade.


  • 1950-1961: Resides primarily in Paris. Takes several trips to the USA and Israel. During this time, Fuchs heavily indulges in the sermons of Meister Eckhart, alchemical symbolism, and Jungian psychology.
  • 1951: Co-founds the Hundsgruppe with Friedensreich Hundertwasser and Arnulf Rainer.
  • 1957: Begins work on his iconic “Last Supper” at the Dormition Abbey on Mount Zion and produces other smaller religious-themed paintings.
  • 1958: Founding of the Galerie Fuchs-Fischoff in Vienna to support emerging artists of the Fantastic Realism school. Also, begins the cycle of the Mysteries of the Holy Rosary, a project he’d complete by 1961.


  • 1961: Returns to Vienna. Envisions the “verschollener Stil” or The Hidden Prime of Styles, which he later articulates in his book “Architectura Caelestis: Die Bilder des verschollenen Stils” in 1966.
  • 1964-67: Produces significant print cycles like “Esther” and “Sphinx.”


  • 1970s: Shifts his focus to sculptural projects, including the renowned “Queen Esther.”
  • 1972: Acquires and restores the Otto Wagner Villa in Hütteldorf, which would later become the Ernst Fuchs Museum.
  • 1974: Diversifies his creative output by designing stage sets and costumes for opera.


  • 1988: Inaugurates the Ernst Fuchs Museum, a testament to his artistry and contribution to the world of Fantastic Realism.


Ernst Fuchs
  • 1993: Honored with a retrospective exhibition at the State Russian Museum in St. Petersburg, distinguishing him as one of the few Western artists to receive such an honor.

2000s and Beyond:

  • Continues to influence artists worldwide and leaves an indelible mark on the art world, with his museum serving as a testament to his genius.
  • Passes away in 2015, leaving behind a legacy that continues to inspire and captivate art enthusiasts and scholars alike.

This timeline gives an overview of Ernst Fuchs’ life decade by decade. The detailing from the 2000s onward is brief because the primary source provided mostly focused on the earlier parts of his life and career.

Daniel Mirante is a painter, historian, scholar, teacher and writer.

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