In Woman of Mystery, a ghostly woman materializes in what appears to be a domestic interior. The image is very ambiguous. It is a pencil drawing executed in a soft, almost fuzzy style. The only solid object is a frame of some sort which encloses the female form. This frame might represent a mirror, a painting, or even a doorway. Stylized flowers fill some of the framed space beneath the woman's floating head. These are outlined more firmly than the other parts of the drawing, in thin black lines. These flowers might be real flora or a decorative pattern; this is unclear.

Knopff's woman consists of a floating face with closed eyes. The outlines of her face and head bleed into the surrounding space, blurring the border between figure and background. The woman becomes a part of the wall, and a part of the décor. The fact that she is framed, with decorative flowers, might indicate she is a piece of art or somehow representative of the arts and the artificial. alternately, her faint and nebulous appearance might mean she is a ghost or a vision. If the female form is a reflection of a real woman, then she is standing in front of a mirror without seeing herself.

Knopff refuses to provide a clarification of his image, even in his choice of title. The woman herself certainly does not offer any explanations. Her closed eyes prevent her from communicating with the viewer just as they prevent her from interacting with the space around her.


1. How does Knopff use the qualities of pencil to advantage in his drawn works?

2. How is Knopff's use of pencil and pastel a continuation of the style of pre-Raphaelites such as Frederick Sandys? How does Knopff depart from this style?

3. In his drawings and paintings of women, Knopff often emphasizes the eyes of his model. Women tend to stare boldly at the viewer (as in Head of an English Girl and Brown Eyes and a Blue Flower) or keep their eyes shut completely. Do all the women with closed eyes (for example Standing Woman and Dreaming Woman) have something thematically in common? What might closed eyes represent?

4. What is the significance of the absence of the body of the "woman of mystery"?

5. What aspects of Woman of Mystery, if any, refer to Decadent ideas and themes?

Victorian Web Visual Arts Fernand Khnopff Drawings by Khnopff

Last modified 3 December 2006