The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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Fernand Khnopff, 1858-1921

Nationality: Belgian
Date of Birth: 1858.09.12
Place of Birth: Termonde
Date of Death: 1921.11.12
Place of Death: Brussels


Fernand Khnopff was a Symbolist painter, illustrator, sculptor, designer, photographer and writer.


Khnopff studied with Xavier Mellery at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels and with Jules Lefebvre and Gustave Boulanger at the Académie Julian in Paris. He began painting traditional allegory, but became well known for his Symbolist paintings of Brussels high society, e.g. After Joséphin Péladan: The Supreme Vice (1885; untraced).

Khnopff exhibited with the Belgian exhibition society L'Essor in 1881. He was also associated with the Jeune Belgique literary movement. In 1883 he was a founder-member of Les XX, designing their logo and exhibiting Listening to Schumann (1883; Brussels, Mus. A. Mod.) at their first exhibition, a painting which epitomised his Symbolist concern for introspection conjoined with an impressionist style. In 1884 he exhibited for the first time at the Paris Salon. He also began to illustrate books. He was a regular exhibitor at the Munich Secession from 1894. After 1900 he worked as a costume and set designer for the Théâtre de la Monnaie in Brussels.

Khnopff was greatly influenced Gustave Moreau, Edward Burne-Jones, Richard Wagner, George Rodenbach and Péladan, with whom he shared an enthusiasm for the spirituality of the Middle Ages. He himself was influential in the 1890s for painters such as Jan Toorop, Edvard Munch and Gustav Klimt.

In the late 1880s Khnopff made his first contacts in London, becoming friendly with George Frederic Watts and Burne-Jones. In 1891 he held the first of many exhibitions in Britain. From this point on, he made frequent visits to Britain and became something of an authority on British art, giving lectures and writing articles on artists such as Walter Crane, Burne-Jones and Lawrence Alma-Tadema. He made regular contributions to the Studio between 1894 and 1914. I Lock my Door upon Myself (1891; Neue Pinakothek, Munich) and Who Shall Deliver me? (1891; Private Collection, Paris) were inspired by the poetry of Christina Rossetti and bear a similarity to the decorative compositions of JW, exhibited beside Khnopff's at Société des XX in 1888 [#05490]. JW also exhibited with the group in 1884, 1886 and 1890. JW in turn invited Khnopff to exhibit with the International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers in 1898. Like JW, Khnopff was concerned that art should permeate the whole of life, and at the end of the century he designed a house and studio on these principles (completed 1902; destroyed).

Khnopff became Director of the educational branch of the Maison du Peuple in Brussels. He was elected a member of the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels in 1907, and later of the Institut de France, as well as being awarded the Légion d'honneur.


Howe, J. W., The Symbolist Art of Fernand Khnopff, Ann Arbor, 1982; Howe, J. W., Fernand Khnopff and the Belgian Avant-garde, Chicago, 1984; Kaplan, Julius, 'Fernand Khnopff', The Grove Dictionary of Art Online, ed. L. Macy, (accessed 11 December 2002).