The Influence of Fernand Khnopff upon Gustav Klimt

Marian Bisanz-Prakken

Khnopff's influence on Klimt was not confined to strictly frontal, iconic female figures in such allegories as Tragödie (Tragedy) (1897), Pallas Athena (1898), Nuda Veritas (1899), Philosophie (1900, in the head of Knowledge), Medizin (1901, in Hygieia) or Judith (1901). Ever since the 1898 portrait of Sonja Knips, Klimt's modern portraits of Viennese society ladies are illuminated by a sphinx-like aura of the mysterious, with the Khnopffian mixture of sensual intimacy and hieratic distance. The mask-like frontal face so reminiscent of Khnopff is to be found again and again, even among his late portraits. It is these atttributes that enhance the portraits' aura of nobility. In his preparatory sketches for the portraits Klimt invariably and in all phases of his style relies on the Khnopffian formula of placing the upper margin across his subject's forehead. This makes the figures appear tangibly close and, at the same time, almost immobilized in the surrounding space; postures and gestures call to mind the rigorously controlled, quasi frozen gestural repertoire of Khnopff's female figures.

Similarly as far as landscape painting is concerned there are distinct analogi Khnopff and Klimt. The meditative character of Khnopffian landscapes, such as the ones displayed in the 1st and 2nd Exhibitions in 1898, arises from the high positioning of the horizon. Some of his compositions consist in an unruffled water surface patterned with subtle reflections of the surrounding countryside. In Klimt's ceuvre this type of landscape painting, known as Seelenlandschaft (Soulscape) in German, is represented by a number of paintings which were done at Lake Attersee between 1899 and 1901. Again in a way reminiscent of Khnopff, it is the toned-down transitions as far as shapes and colors are concerned which contribute so much to the mysterious mood of his early landscapes. [22-23]


Bisanz-Prakken, Marian. "Khnoppf, Toorop, Minne and the Symbolism of Gustav Klimt." Intermezzo: Gustav Klimt und Wien un 1900/Gustav Klimt and Vienna around 1900. Salzburg: Museum der Moderne Rupertinum, 2004.

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Last modified 15 October 2005