Fernand Khnopff introduces his version of the contemplative woman in the pastel drawing Memories (Lawn Tennis). Seven women stand on a lawn, and although they hold racquets, the scene is entirely static. Contrary to what the title suggests, the women do not seem to be engaged in any sort of game — instead, they appear motionless, lost in thought. The placement of the women against an open landscape — and the soft vagueness of this landscape -- enhances the feeling that each woman is lost in her own private dreamland. The haziness of the background also gives the impression that the scene derives from memory, creating a sense of nostalgic reflection or even wistfulness.

The women's positions and physical appearances supplement this air of reminiscence. Most of the women gaze toward the right side of the drawing, producing a sense of some sort of progression. Perhaps this progression relates to the cycle of life: the leftmost woman, dressed in white and the only figure with loose hair, may represent youth, while the woman in black at the right side of the painting may represent age and death. Under this interpretation, the central figure, gazing to the left, looks back upon earlier days.

Discussion Questions

1. Like Khnopff's Memories, Burne-Jones's The Mirror of Venus features a group of women each in her own private world. However, the painting by Burne-Jones features the women as goddesses in an unrealistic setting, while Khnopff's drawing features the women in modern dress against a realistic background. How do these different contexts affect our interpretations of the scenes?

2. Millais's Autumn Leaves, another painting depicting contemplative female figures, also includes the image of burning leaves to create a sense of time passing. Are there any such images in Memories? How does Khnopff evoke a similar sense of transience?

3. How might the absence of men be significant to the scene?

4. The women in this drawing have nearly identical faces. Might Khnopff have had some purpose in depicting the women in this way, or did he just prefer to use one model?

5. How does this drawing relate to its title? Does one's interpretation of the drawing rely on clues from the title? Is the title misleading in any way?


Aesthetes & Decadents Fernand Khnopff Drawings by Khnopff Questions for Khnopff

Last modified 3 December 2006