KHNOPFF, Fernand
(b. 1858, Termonde, d. 1921, Bruxelles)


Belgian painter, illustrator, sculptor, designer, photographer and writer. He was one of the foremost Symbolist artists and active supporters of avant-garde art in late 19th-century Belgium. His wealthy family lived in Bruges from 1859 to 1864, moved to Brussels in 1865, where Khnopff remained until his death. The family spent the summers at a country home in Fosset, in the Ardennes. Fosset inspired numerous landscapes that owe a strong debt to Barbizon-style realism, which dominated advanced Belgian painting in the late 1870s.

Khnopff abandoned law school in 1875, and, turning to literature and art, he studied with Xavier Mellery (1845-1921) at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels. At the Exposition Universelle of 1878 in Paris, he discovered Gustave Moreau and Edward Burne-Jones, both indelibly influenced his art.

He studied with Jules Lefebvre and Gustave Boulanger at the Académie Julian in Paris but was dissatisfied with their brand of Realism and continued searching for an original style and subject. He moved through several aesthetic options, starting with traditional allegory in his first public showing, with the Belgian exhibition society L'Essor, in 1881. The watercolour Passing Boulevard du Régent (1881), exhibited the following year, shows his awareness of current avant-garde practice with its realism and atmospheric effects. After Flaubert (1883), indebted to the striking light effects and rich impastos of Moreau's work of the 1870s and Gustave Flaubert's novel La Tentation de Saint Antoine (1874), marked his lifelong fascination with literature. It explores evocative expression, which, along with his association with the Jeune Belgique literary movement, put Khnopff in the Symbolist camp.

In 1883, he was a founder-member of Les XX, the most avant-garde and internationalist art group in Europe. He designed their logo and exhibited Listening to Schumann (1883), a painting characterized by a Symbolist concern for introspection and an impressionist style indebted to James Ensor's Russian Music (1881). He also began to illustrate books at this time, producing some of his most puzzling images, for example, six illustrations for Lucien Solvay's Belle-Maman! suivi de Merveilles de la science (Paris, 1884). In the same year, he exhibited for the first time at the Paris Salon.

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