Three of Khnopff's Fosset paintings: [from left to right] An Evening,A Stream, and Under the Fir Trees. [Click on thumbnails for larger images.]
Of his three paintings titled "In Fosset", Fernand Khnopff departs the most with "An Evening" from the pattern of focusing on color saturation in nature (green in "A Stream and orange in "Under the Fir Trees"). Moreover, the general composition of"An Evening" does not use the same perspective as the other two, therefore causing the space to lack depth. That even the individuals appear flat strongly emphasizes Khnopff's inclusion of human beings in comparison to the other two paintings and also heightens the awkward relationship between the individuals. Not only does the unnatural, total lack of light inside the white-shuttered window contrast with, thus exaggerating, the static blackness of the clothing which suggests some unexplained death and mourning, but the soft brushstrokes add further ambiguity to the role of nature here. No distinct shapes, no trees, can be discerned from the woods nor any grass blades from the ground.
How the individuals are placed contributes, too, to the strangeness: While both figures stand rather far back in the foreground and neither faces look forward at all, Khnopff positions them distantly apart from each other but maintains tension as the person on the left looks in the direction of the person on the right who looks on past the gate at something unknown. And yet although the viewer cannot see the people up-close, Khnopff perfectly captures a paradoxical shallowness in this apparent distance; the viewer has no idea of the history, and hardly the setting as the brick building is mostly cut out and the brick wall does not allow us to see beyond, of this circumstance. It is also of some importance that Khnopff has methodically stopped whatever journey was to take place right before the woman could walk over to the other side--out of the fenced-in world and into the woods. Rather than using vivid coloring, detail, sharp lines, this intensified mood, the most striking aspect of the work, comes across in these subtleties beneath the dullness.
1a. Whether it be the modern, English look or the instantly identifiable features of Jane Morris, facial peculiarities seem quite important to many Pre-Raphaelite painters. Khnopff's face, the close-up of a frozen expression, is known to have influenced Klimt, and yet "In Fosset. An Evening" deliberately avoids any full-frontal position, detail, or close-up of the face. Why? Does this perhaps tell us anything about the reason for attention to facial peculiarities in 19th century European painting?
1b. Khnopff was also highly influential for his detailed depictions of the human body. Why are the two figures in "An Evening" so simply shaped? Why exactly are their bodies so two-dimensional?
2. As in most of his paintings, including his most famous "Caresses", Khnopff takes away definite sources of light so that even though his skies look clear most the time, the general atmosphere is extremely dull, like in "Memories (Lawn Tennis)". Why does he do this, and does this go against the Pre-Raphaelite ideology of natural lighting?
3. As the only painting of the three "In Fosset" works with any human beings present, does "An Evening" fill in missing pieces of a narrative? If so, how?
Fernand Khnopff (1858-1921). Ostfildern-Ruit, Germany: Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2004. no. 14.
Last modified 28 April 2008