The Chronicle of Higher Education
From the issue dated October 1, 2004


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Hypnotic Symbolism

Artwork by Fernand Khnopff

Article Illustration
"In Bruges, a Portal," circa 1904 (oil on canvas) Collection of Clemens-Sels-Museum, Neuss, Germany

The works of Fernand Khnopff (1858-1921) reflect a distinctive and intriguing artistic personality, and provide a fascinating window on the complexities of the early modern age. Widely recognized as one of the most important artists of the Symbolist era, Khnopff developed his art in a highly intellectual culture which embraced and defined the major themes of Modernism.

Article Ilustration
"Study of a Woman," circa 1895 (pastel and colored pencil on paper) private collection

Belgium in the late 19th century was at the forefront of industrialization and European economic development, and Brussels became a leading international center for art through ... groundbreaking exhibitions. ... Even in these avant-garde exhibitions, which regularly featured bold artistic experiments, Khnopff's art stood out with its striking compositions, perfect technique, and enigmatic imagery. He disturbed the assumptions of his viewers with subtle pictorial constructions that challenged interpretation and fascinated with a nearly hypnotic power.

Article Ilustration
"Listening to Music by Schumann," 1883 (oil on canvas) Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium

A multifaceted artist, his works include evocative landscapes and sensitive portraits as well as mysterious allegories. Khnopff's depictions of women range from sensuous images of fleshy temptresses, to abstract and cerebral androgynes, to respectful portraits of strong, modern women. His haunting and uncannily precise depictions of the city of Bruges transcend simple realism to become complex images of national identity, autobiography, and religion. Khnopff worked in many media, including painting, drawing, printmaking, photography, and sculpture. ... The multidisciplinary art of Symbolism blended issues from psychology, literature, and modern social and religious history. A fascination with dreams and the unconscious is one of the most striking aspects of Khnopff's art.

The artwork is from the exhibition "Fernand Khnopff: Inner Visions and Landscapes," at the McMullen Museum of Art at Boston College through December 5. The text, from the exhibition catalog (Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, 2004), is by Jeffery Howe, a professor of art at Boston College and the chief curator of the exhibit.


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Volume 51, Issue 6, Page B19

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