Rote Lippen [Red Lips]
Fernand Khnopff (1858-1921)
Pencil crayon, and soft pencil on photo paper
25.2 x 17.2 cm..
Commentary by Andrea Domesle
The Royal Art Museum in Brussels has a 1901 version of this work in pastels entitled Red Lips was shown at the 1st Exhibition at the Secession (26 March to 15 June 1898). As there are several works of that title in Khnopff's ceuvre, it is impossible to tell whether the picture above is actually the one from the exhibition. It is however representative of the female type created by him: seen from in front, gazing straight ahead with fixed eyes, the lips rendered with straight, indifferent strokes. A light-red mane of hair frames the delicate, elongated face. The fringe, which was fashionable at the time, is the only feature that locates the work in a period context. The picture format almost appears to have been superimposed on the face as the margins block out parts of the mane. This enables the artist to achieve an effect of utmost proximity and intimacy, yet this effect is cancelled out through his painterly treatment of the bust and the hair. As a consequence the face seems to float in the air detached from the body
What is particularly interesting about the picture is that Khnopff started out with a photo and managed to re-model the subject, a woman of the then fashionable "English" appearance which he also felt attracted to, into the distant, sphinx-like female type which became one of his hallmarks. In his ceuvre there are numerous drawings representing this female type rendered in the typically Khnopffian hieratic manner. One gets the impression as if he had never tired of this female type or as if he had consistently kept trying to establish a rapport with a woman who was beyond his reach, who beckoned to him alluringly and yet kept herself aloof" [p. 58].
Domesle, Andrea. "The Motif Repertoire of Symbolism" Intermezzo: Gustav Klimt und Wien un 1900/Gustav Klimt and Vienna around 1900. Salzburg: Museum der Moderne Rupertinum, 2004. 58-62.
Fernand Khnopff (1858-1921). Ostfildern-Ruit, Germany: Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2004. no. 29.
Last modified 14 November 2005