A Man and his Sphinges - Fernand Khnopff

12 September 1858, the Belgian symbolist painter and sculptor Fernand Khnopff was born in Grembergen, 15 miles southwest of Antwerp.

“All art is at once surface and symbol. Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril.” (Oscar Wilde, “The Picture of Dorian Gray”)

 Fernand Khnopff: "The Caress" (1896)

To some, the best possible approach of art to depict an accurate perception of the lowest common denominator of the perception of reality is just plain boring. Nonetheless, artists and their audience revelled during mid 19th century in appreciating the natural imitations of writers and painters of realism and naturalism after the extravagances of emotion the Romantic Movement had brought forth. The upheavals of the age called for different expressions, though. And while the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood took up a thread from the Romantics again and magnified the sublime, while the Symbolists and their varieties like the Decadents were more interested in the undercurrents of the soul and myth and legends and enlarged upon the more Gothic sujets the Romantics had revealed a few decades before and usually added an overtly sensual note the potpourri.

Fernand Khnopff: "I lock my door upon myself" (1891)

Under these auspices, Belgium spawned quite a few remarkable artists, writers like Maeterlinck and Verhaeren and painters like Félicien Rops, James Ensor and Fernand Khnopff. The latter abandoned his law studies to become a painter, studied arts in Brussels and began, under the influence of Rossetti, Burne-Jones and Moreau to hang out in Symbolist circles and finally to develop a unique style that became a huge success in Paris after a failure to establish himself in Brussels. By the turn of the century Khnopff was one of the most influential artists of the Symbolist movement, painting portraits, designing stage decorations, influencing Klimt and von Stuck and was almost always close to scandal while living with his sister who was his favourite model as well.

Fernand Khnopff: "Paganism" (1910)

Khnopff’s colours are usually sombre, even morbid and befitting for his dreamscapes and representing female forms as harpies and sphinges and chimera, always staggering between an angelic vision and a femme fatale. In any case, all his portrayals are removed from a vulgar reality, an alternative draft to modernity, separated by barriers of sujet and expression and as withdrawn as the artists was during his life and times as a highly individualised subject and consequently a perfect example of an artist of the fin de siècle.

A little monographic show can be found on:


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