Fernand Khnopff was second to no one in the way his pictures, from the 1890s onward, captured the fin-de-siècle mood. Indeed, the unqualified success he met with at the 1st Exhibition of the Secession was undoubtedly due to how precisely his pictorial figurations coincided with the moods prevalent in pre-turn-of-the-century Vienna. This effect was in no way diminished by the fact that other artists of his generation, who were active in Vienna and had their works presented at exhibitions, were working along similar lines. There is no question that Khnopff was important at the time — his influence on many artists, e. g. on Klimt, is beyond dispute — yet we must not blind ourselves to the fact that artists both of his generation and older ones, such as Wilhelm Bernatzik, Karl Wilhelm Diefenbach and Friedrich Konig, arrived almost simultaneously and independently of Khnopff, perhaps without ever having seen or met him at comparable figurations. — Andrea Domesle

Khnopff is the most important of the Belgian Symbolists (apart from the very different James Ensor), and his rediscovery constitutes the great achievement of the present [i.e. 1970s] enthusiasm for Symbolist art. Brought up in Bruges, and later in Brussels, he was influenced when young by his reading of Flaubert, Baudelaire and the Parnassian poet Leconte de Lisle. As he came of a legal family, he first of all studied law, but later turned to painting under the guidance of Xavier Mellery, an exhibitor in the Salons de la Rose+Croix and member of Les XX. In 1879 he went to Paris, to complete his studies in art, and there became infected with an enthusiasm for Moreau. He did not stay there long; in 1880 he returned to Belgium, and in 1883 he scored his first public success with a painting entitled Listening to Schumann. It made him seem, according to his biographer Dumont-Wilden, 'both attractive and suspect' in the eyes of the Belgian public.

Khnopff was a dandy — in his habitation as much as in his pictures. His house in Brussels reminded his privileged visitors of des Esseintes and A Rebours. He had the dedicated pessimism which seems to be onecharacteristic of the true dandy; his themes, indeed, may be summedup for the most part in four words — pride, isolation, cruelty anddisdain. He also had the dandy's fanatical interest in precision. However strange his compositions, they are never accidental. Every effect is calculated, every detail precisely and deliberately placed. — Edward Lucie-Smith



Resources on the Web


Fernand Khnopff (1858-1921). Ostfildern-Ruit, Germany: Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2004.

Intermezzo: Gustav Klimt und Wien un 1900/Gustav Klimt and Vienna around 1900. Salzburg: Museum der Moderne Rupertinum, 2004.

Jullian, Philippe. Dreamers of Decadence: Symbolist Painters of the 1890s. Trans. Robert Baldick. London: Pall Mall, 1971.

Jullian, Philippe. The Symbolists. Trans. Mary Ann Stevens. London: Phaidon, 1973.

Lucie-Smith, Edward, Philippe. Symbolist Art. Trans. Mary Ann Stevens. London: Thames and Hudson, 1972.

Aesthetes & Decadents painting Leading Questions

Last modified 14 November 2005