McMullen Museum of Art Boston College


Press Release: Fernand Khnopff: Inner Visions and Landscapes

Exclusive North American Venue of Major Retrospective:
Fernand Khnopff: Inner Visions and Landscapes
September 19 through December 5, 2004

Includes Key European Symbolist’s Most Important Works

CHESTNUT HILL, MA (8-3-04) — This fall, the McMullen Museum of Art at Boston College will be the exclusive North American venue for the critically acclaimed exhibition Fernand Khnopff: Inner Visions and Landscapes. This major retrospective—which debuted in Brussels to significant attention and accolades in the European press and drew over 163,000 visitors—is the first of its kind to be shown in America.

On display from September 19 through December 5, 2004, the exhibition presents over 80 paintings and works on paper—many rarely exhibited or published—that span the career of this key figure in the European Symbolist movement. It includes Khnopff’s most important works from the Royal Art Museums in Brussels as well as many from private collections in Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, France and the United States, as well as two masterpieces that inspired Khnopff: James Ensor’s The Russian Music and Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Rosa Triplex.

“The McMullen Museum is pleased to bring this highly acclaimed retrospective of the finest work of one of Europe’s key Symbolists to North America, where the artist is less well known than his historical importance and extraordinary talent merit,” said McMullen Museum Director and Professor of Art History Nancy Netzer. “Khnopff’s paintings open a window for visitors to explore ways in which the Symbolist movement extended the evocative power of images to capture experiences and states of mind beyond common awareness.”

Preview Event for Invited Guests

To commemorate the opening of the exhibition, a black-tie event for invited guests will be held at the McMullen Museum on Saturday, September 18, 2004. It celebrates the 10th anniversary of the Museum’s formal reopening.

Public Opening Event

The public is invited to attend an opening event, from 7 to 9 p.m., at the McMullen Museum on Monday, September 20, 2004. It will include a dessert reception, exhibition viewing and music by BCbOp!—a popular campus jazz band—and an opening ceremony at 8 p.m. [NOTE: To arrange attendance, call 617-552-8587 or email]

Fernand Khnopff: Inner Visions and Landscapes Fernand Khnopff opened at Belgium’s Royal Museums of Fine Arts in Brussels (January 16 to May 9, 2004), organized by their curator of modern art Frederik Leen, with distinguished scholars Gisèle Ollinger-Zinque and Dominique Marechal serving as co-curators.

Boston College Fine Arts Department Professor Jeffery Howe—a specialist in Khnopff’s art who serves as chief curator for the McMullen Museum exhibition—collaborated on the fully illustrated scholarly catalogue for this exhibition, which is published in French, Dutch, German and English editions. (See below for catalogue information.)

“Fernand Khnopff is widely recognized as one of the most important artists of the Symbolist era,” said Howe. “With its striking compositions, perfect technique, and enigmatic imagery, Khnopff’s art stood out even in the bold avant-garde exhibitions of his era. His mysterious and profound works leave an unforgettable impression on the viewer. This chance to explore the full range of Khnopff’s distinctive contribution to modern art is an important and welcome opportunity.”

This wide-ranging retrospective offers a unique opportunity for the public to view a large number of works of art that are seldom, if ever, exhibited or published; some were unknown even to specialists. Seventy-eight works by Fernand Khnopff will be displayed: primarily paintings, with some drawings, retouched photos, book illustrations and graphic work.

This exhibition provides a fascinating window into late-nineteenth century Belgium, an era in which the country was emerging as a leading international center for art. Khnopff developed his art in a highly intellectual culture that embraced and defined the major themes of Modernism.

The retrospective presents all aspects of the artist’s remarkable oeuvre, including realist landscapes and mystical symbolist visionary art. The works illustrate the artist’s fascination with dreams and the unconscious, and his interest in religion. Khnopff combines a nearly photographic realism with a polished idealism that transcends reality.

He reveals himself as a multi-faceted artist, working not only as a painter and draughtsman in oils, pastels and mixed techniques, but also as a sculptor, engraver and architect. He also produced many photographs of his works, which he later enhanced with pastels or colored crayon. To the end of his life, Khnopff was in constant demand, illustrating books by his Symbolist contemporaries—Stéphane Mallarmé, Emile Verhaeren, and Maurice Maeterlinck—programs for charity and patriotic events, theater designs, and even a banknote, which was never produced.

[MEDIA NOTE: Images from the exhibition are available upon request from the McMullen Museum: call Naomi Blumberg at (617) 552-4676. A complete list of works also is available.]

Exhibition Lenders

The Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium owns the largest and most complete collection of Fernand Khnopff’s works, and is the principal lender to this exhibition. Other lenders to the McMullen exhibition are: Communauté française de Belgique; Musée d’Ixelles, Brussels, Belgium; New York, The Hearn Family Trust, and private collectors.

The exhibition will include masterpieces like The Caresses (of the Sphinx), 1896, Portrait of Marguerite Khnopff, the Artist's Sister, 1887, Listening to Schumann, 1883, James Ensor: Russian Music, 1881, Landscapes of Fosset, c. 1894, Souvenir of Bruges. The Entry to the Beguinage, 1904, Head of a Woman (Title Unknown), c. 1899, Requiem, 1907, Orpheus, 1913.

All aspects of Khnopff’s artistic production will be exhibited in a thematic presentation. On entering, visitors are introduced to Khnopff and his artistic career. The second section presents several versions of the “Khnopffian” woman, alongside portraits by Dante Gabriel Rossetti and James Ensor. The portraiture section is followed by Khnopff’s landscapes of Fosset. Section four focuses on Khnopff’s unique Symbolist aesthetic, including the masterpiece, The Caresses. The fifth section is devoted to Khnopff’s cityscapes of Bruges and the sixth section presents the artist’s late works, from 1903 to 1913. A final section comprises illustrated books and documents that reveal the artist’s interest in music and literature.

The Artist Fernand Khnopff (1858 – 1921) spent his childhood in Bruges, Belgium, where the atmosphere of this moribund and decadent city left an indelible impression on the young artist-to-be. Leaving Bruges in 1866, his family moved to Brussels and spent summers in Fosset, a tiny hamlet in the Ardennes and the subject of many of Khnopff’s paintings. To please his parents, Khnopff studied law at Brussels’ Université libre, but developed a passion for French literature and connected with a group of young Belgian writers with whom he later worked on illustrated publications. He left the university to learn the rudiments of painting in Xavier Mellery’s studio. He took drawing lessons at Brussels Academy of Fine Arts alongside James Ensor, and spent extended periods studying in Paris.

Khnopff became an active painter of Brussels high society, and did 34 realist portraits between 1884 and 1890. He transformed Realism far beyond its descriptive powers into symbolic images. Two years after exhibiting for the first time in 1881 in Brussels, he became a founding member of Les XX and La Libre Esthétique, two important and progressive artists’ groups. In 1885 he made contact with Joséphin Péladan, with whom he shared a nostalgia for the Middle Ages which appears in his images of Bruges. The artist produced several frontispieces for Péladan’s works.

From the 1890s on, Khnopff exhibited regularly in England, where he met Pre-Raphaelite painters William Holman Hunt, George Frederick Watts, Ford Maddox Brown and Burne-Jones. As a contributor to The Studio, the leading British art magazine, he introduced Belgian artists and exhibitions to the British public. In the early 1890s Khnopff established a characteristic manner of depicting women, focusing on the face, cut off at the top and sides by a virtual or illusionistic frame. These cut-offs focus exclusively on facial features and make the portraits appear like masks. In 1894, Khnopff began to receive the awards and honors that distinguished him as a highly successful member of the international art establishment.

Accompanying Catalogue

A foreword by Head Curator Frederik Leen is followed by three introductory essays and three texts on specific aspects of Khnopff’s works. The first essay is a general overview of Khnopff and Symbolism, the second is on Khnopff and his mystical and religious subjects, and the third is on Khnopff’s special connections to Bruges and Fosset. The three additional texts deal with Khnopff’s connection to England and to Edward Burne-Jones in particular, Khnopff and the representation of Medusa, and Khnopff and the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie.

The catalogue follows the thematic structure of the exhibition, and is divided into 12 chapters, with many works discussed in separate entries. A section is devoted to Khnopff and photography, as well as to his contribution as an engraver and as an illustrator. This richly illustrated 287-page volume has color reproductions of all works exhibited and a series of supporting illustrations.

[MEDIA NOTE: Catalogue is available upon request from the McMullen Museum; please call (617) 552-8587.]

Accompanying Public Programs

A number of educational programs—including lectures, a film series, concerts and readings—will accompany the exhibition. (Please see next page for more information.)

McMullen Museum

The McMullen Museum is renowned for organizing interdisciplinary exhibitions that ask new questions and break new ground in the display and scholarship of the works on view. It serves as a dynamic educational resource for all of New England as well as the national and the international community. The Museum displays its notable permanent collection and mounts exhibitions of international scholarly importance from all periods and cultures of the history of art.

The Charles S. and Isabella V. McMullen Museum of Art was named in 1996 in honor of the late parents of Boston College benefactor, trustee and art collector John J. McMullen. In keeping with the University’s central teaching mission, the Museum’s exhibitions are accompanied by scholarly catalogues and related public programs.

McMullen Museum Hours and Tours

Admission to the McMullen Museum is free; it is handicapped accessible and open to the public. The Museum is located in Devlin Hall on the Chestnut Hill campus of Boston College, at 140 Commonwealth Avenue.

From September through May, the McMullen Museum hours are as follows: Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; and Saturday and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. The Museum will be closed on October 11, and on November 25 and 26. Limited parking on the following Saturdays: October 2, November 6 and November 27.

Gallery tours of the exhibition will be given by Museum docents on Fridays at 12:30 p.m. Group tours may be arranged upon request, by calling (617) 552-8587. For directions, parking and program information, visit the web site at or call (617) 552-8100.

Accompanying Public Programs

(for information: or 617-552-8100)


Fernand Khnopff and Symbolist Landscape: from Fosset to Bruges
Jeffery Howe, Exhibition Curator, BC Fine Arts Professor
Monday, October 4, 7 p.m., Devlin Hall room 101

Love for Love’s Sake: Devotion and Decadent Style (Lowell Lecture Series)
Ellis Hanson, Professor of English, Cornell University
Thursday, October 14, 7:30 p.m., Devlin Hall room 101

Symbolism and Decadence: Panel Discussion (featuring BC faculty members)
Jeffery Howe, Stephen Schloesser, SJ, Ourida Mostefai, Kevin Newmark
Thursday, October 21, 7 p.m. Devlin Hall room 101

F. Holland Day and ‘Men Against an Epoch’: Symbolism and Decadence in 1890's Boston
Elizabeth MacDonald, Ph.D. candidate History, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, BC
Thursday, October 28, 7 p.m., Devlin Hall room 101

Film Series

Tuesdays, 7 pm, Devlin Hall room 026
Introduced by BC Fine Arts Department Chair John Michalczyk and other faculty

Oct. 5 Total Eclipse (1995) starring Leonardo DiCaprio

Oct. 19 The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)

Nov. 9 La Promesse (1996)

Nov. 16 Daens (1992)

Nov. 30 From Hell (2001), starring Johnny Depp


Inner Visions: Ravel, Piano Trio and Debussy, Préludes.
Sandra Hebert (BC faculty member), piano, Kirsi Perttuli, violin, Junko Simons, cello.
Sunday, September 26, 3 p.m., Gasson Hall room 100

Messiaen: Visions de l’Amen
Hyesook Kim and Stéphane Lemelin; lecture by Stephen Schloesser, SJ, BC faculty member
Sunday, October 17, 2 p.m. Gasson Hall room 100

Readings in the Museum

“A human being, a thing, a dream”: German Symbolist Poetry
Rachel Freudenberg, BC faculty member and students
Monday, September 27, 2 p.m.

Symbolism and Decadence: Selections from French Literature and Poetry
Ourida Mostefai and Kevin Newmark, BC faculty members, BC grad student Sabrina Stackler, and students of BC’s Maison Française
Friday, November 5, 2 p.m.

New Poetry Inspired by Khnopff
Joseph Spece ’05 and other BC students
Tuesday, November 16, 4 p.m.