Fernand Khnopff's I Lock the Door Upon Myself is a Symbolist painting of much intensity. Khnopff centers the painting on a young woman leaning over a table or ledge of some sort, with unusually white skin and nearly blank eyes, looking altogether unreal. Three especially tall flowers, potentially at various stages of bloom, seem to surround the woman. A conspicuous statue with a distinctive face and wings gazes in the other direction. These elements, along with the crudely established boundaries of the house or shelter, create the claustrophobic sense of space which dominates the painting. The woman does indeed seem locked in her surroundings, and Khnopff manages to create this effect with relatively few compositional focus points. By doing so, he forces a viewer to consider the woman's appearance, as well as the other key compositional elements, with greater focus. And though the symbolism does not easily lead to a simple, defining narrative, Khnopff's irregular use of perspective is forceful enough, and his mixtures of color provocative enough, that a reader may indulge in the pervasive atmosphere created by the painting with much ease.

Questions

1. Is this woman alone? Is she Khnopff's take on the contemplative woman? If not, how does this painting differ?

2. How does Khnopff's title affect how one views the painting?

3. How does Khnopff use space and lighting to affect the mood of the painting?

4. Like the Pre-Raphaelites, Khnopff uses certain models repeatedly (see also Who Shall Deliver Me?). How does Khnopff's preferred type of woman models compare to Pre-Raphaelite types?

5. Certain Pre-Raphaelite works lean in a Symbolist direction. How does this painting compare to Dante Gabriel Rossetti's Beata Beartrix or Sir Edward Burne-Jones's The Heart of the Rose?

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Last modified 29 April 2008