Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Fernand Khnopff

Fernand Khnopff (1858-1921)
The Temptation of St Anthony 1883
Oil on canvas
83 x 83 cm

Fernand Khnopff (1858-1921)
Requiem 1907,
Pencil, colored pencil, and watercolour on paper,
Hearn Family Trust

Fernand Khnopff (1858-1921)
Caritas Aeterna c.1917
Pencil on paper
8 3/4 x 3 7/8 inches (22.3 x 10 cm)
Museum of Fine Arts Ghent

Fernand Edmond Jean Marie Khnopff (September 12, 1858 in Grembergen near Dendermonde, Belgium - November 12, 1921 in Brussels, Belgium) was a Belgian symbolist painter and has long been considered the leading Belgian artist associated with symbolism.

At the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Bruxelles, his most famous fellow student was James Ensor, whom he disliked from the start.

Khnopff experimented in a variety of media.

Two years after exhibiting for the first time in 1881 in Brussels, he became a founding member of Les XX and La Libre Esthétique, two important and progressive artists’ groups.

From the 1890s on, Khnopff exhibited regularly in England, where he met Pre-Raphaelite painters William Holman Hunt, George Frederick Watts and others.

For him, art had to suggest the essential mystery behind the visible facts and facades.

Emile Verhaeren said of him: "In the end, he [Fernand Khnopff] had to arrive at the symbol, the supreme union of perception and feeling." (Emile Verhaeren, "Silhouettes d'artistes. Fernand Khnopff," L'Art moderne VI, number 37, 12 September 1886, p. 289.)

In The Temptation of St Anthony, one has to ask what is tempting St Anthony in this picture. He stands in profile. There are no demons or temptresses. He confronts a golden assymetrical light. Following Flaubert, the theme of the temptation of St Anthony was a popular theme in French art and literature at the time.

In Requiem, he used the interior of Santa Maria in Trastevere, in Rome, as a backdrop. The figure of an archangel stands guard, holding an orb and sceptre. To his right, hanging jewel-like from a chain, is a diminutive angel shimmering in a blue aura. Khnopff made it in the year his mother died.

Before and during the First World War (when Belgium was in occupation), he painted a number of explicitly religious works. Redemption through suffering is the theme of Caritas Aeterna.