A common theme among the PRB appears in Fernand Khnopff's Posthumous Portrait of Marguerite Landuyt, which represents the loss of death and its emotional imprint on the living. Khnopff's portrait however differs from the PRB in its depiction of a known, recently deceased woman. Whereas the PRB tended to portray death by way of metaphor and romanticized narratives, Khnopff makes use of a contemporary and personally significant subject. Posthumous Portrait does not make use of symbolic objects or location, but through Khnopff's stylistic choices takes on deeper meaning.

Caught off guard, the young woman pauses and stands perfectly still. Slightly turning her head, the girl intently stares at an unseen person or object in the distance. Her stiff posture indicates her tremendous unease. As if trying to maintain composure, the fragile subject timidly raises an arm to her chest. Dressed in white, the fair-skinned young woman practically fades into the washed out background. Khnopff's use of soft, fleeting coloration suggests the temporality of the figure's existence. Her appearance resembles that of ghostly apparition materialized in front of mourning loved one: Khnopff.

The highly personal subject of Khnopff's Posthumous Portrait marks a shift from the PRB's idea of the composition as emotionally stimulating. In this work, Khnopff draws from his own memory, not external resources. Posthumous Portrait illustrates the artist's memory of an individual. Thus, Khnopff does not distance himself from his subject. Visually communicating a specific moment of death and loss, Khnopff transmits his feeling directly onto the viewer.

Discussion Questions

1. How does Khnopff's Posthumous Portrait differ from PRB representations of death?

2. What is the significance behind Khnopff's ambiguous use of scenery, lighting and coloration?

3. How does Khnopff's color palette differ from the PRB?

Aesthetes & Decadents Fernand Khnopff Paintings by Khnopff Leading Questions

Last modified 4 December 2006