Fernand Khnopff, painter of The Sphinx or The Caresses
Fernand Khnopff (1858-1921), painter, sculptor, engraver and photographer, was a multi-talented artist from a cosmopolitan family. After a year studying law at the Université Libre de Bruxelles, he studied design at the Académie des Beaux-Arts de Bruxelles (Royal Academy of Fine Arts of Brussels) from 1876 to 1879 with James Ensor.
Fernand Khnopff had a fondness for narcissistic introspection, sleep, sexual identity, silence, solitude and disturbing landscapes. The artist attempted to encapsulate the plurality of the senses, beyond reality. His works are more mysterious and symbolic in nature than real. The artist paints a strange world, filled with androgynous people, fossilised towns and silent women. And we must not forget the close links that bind him - along with other symbolist artists - to the other arts, particularly literature.
Two types of women feature heavily in his work: sphinx women and angel women. They sometimes appear surrounded by symbols, or as ethereal creatures, floating through the spaces of memory. They mark a turning in on oneself and a surrender to dreams. The expression of the women in his paintings is very important. It is an empty expression, impossible to bear, evocative of death, an expression that looks upwards, evoking another world.
In 1883, he was one of the founding members of the Brussels avant-garde group "Les Vingt" (The Twenty), whose monogram he designed. Influenced by the Pre-Raphaelite movement, and more particularly by Edward Burne-Jones, Khnopff took part in the first Salons of the Rose-Croix organised by Sâr Péladan from 1892. He created the frontispieces for most of the works of the Rosicrucian magus.
In 1891, he exhibited in England and met the Pre-Raphaelites in London. He also published critical articles and commentaries on Belgian artists and exhibitions in the magazine "The Studio".
Khnopff caused a sensation and earned international notoriety during the Vienna Secession exhibition in 1898. "The painter of the closed eyelids" would in turn influence artists such as Edvard Munch and Gustav Klimt.
Despite international recognition during his lifetime, like many symbolist artists, Khnopff would experience a long period of purgatory. It was not until the 1970s that interest in his work was revived.
To admire many of his works, click here.