Created in 1891, I Lock the Door Upon Myself by Fernand Khnopff, was a symbolic portrait that paid homage to his predecessors, the Pre-Raphaelites, particularly Christina Rossetti. The title of Khnopff's painting was taken from Rossetti's poem, "Who Shall Deliver Me", in which she states:

I lock my door upon myself,
And bar them out; but who shall wall
Self from myself, most loathed of all?

Khnopff's woman is not representative of the ideal form of beauty, instead she appears threatening and some may say, haunting. Khnopff borrows heavily from the Pre-Raphaelite tradition of women with strong features such as fiery, red hair, and distinct features. although the theme of this painting, upon first glance, seems akin to other PRB paintings in which a woman exists in isolation, such as "The Lady of Shallot", the sterile and alarming stare of the woman in Khnopff's painting immediately creates an unpleasant and unsettling ambience, as opposed to the thoughtful countenances that are commonly seen in many PR paintings. Khnopff's lady not only looks hypnotized herself, but also seems to be hypnotizing the audience, alluding to Khnopff's interest in the rise of Spiritualism and the occult in the 1890's.

Khnopff insisted on exploring the mysterious as he did not find it enough to settle on the visible facts. Later, Khnopff became well known for his allegorical and symbolic paintings. In I Lock the Door Upon Myself, one can see the lack of life around the woman, namely in the decay of the flowers, the cracking of the wood, and more generally, the lack of a more vibrant color palette. The woman's clothing seem to blend into her background, a theme which was also seen in Pre-Raphaelite paintings such as, The Heart of the Rose by Burne-Jones, where the woman appears to be one with the bush in which she is sitting.

although one may wonder what becomes of the isolated woman, it appears as though she may find solace from her own hypnotized gaze. Christina Rossetti concludes "Who Shall Deliver Me" with the lines:

Yet One there is can curb myself,
Can roll the strangling load from me
Break off the yoke and set me free

One can only imagine that Khnopff had intended a similar fate for the woman in his painting.

Discussion Questions

Why did Khnopff choose the color scheme in "I Lock the Door Upon Myself"? In particular, why did he make the area around which the woman's elbows are resting blue?

Why did Khnopff choose Christina Rossetti's poem as the template for this painting? Are there other Pre-Raphaelite themes running through this painting?

There are certain details that add to the overall effect of the painting. Explain the significance of the white object in the background.

Without knowing that the title of the poem came from Christina Rossetti's poetry, would the message of this painting be any different?

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Last modified 2 December 2006