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


Oil on canvas, 48 x 60 cm
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

This work restages a popular domestic genre subject, a woman reading. Khnopff titled the painting Hortensia, the French word for the hydrangea that dominates the foreground. A single bright red blossom placed suggestively on the tabletop punctuates the inventive composition.

The quiet, intimate interior scene is a modern variation on a tradition stretching back to Vermeer, a touchstone for nineteenth-century Belgian artists. Khnopff updated the motif by turning pictorial convention on its head. The figure - typically the focus of composition - is set in the far left corner and partially cut off by the door frame; pride of place is given to the blossoming hydrangea, placed just off-centre in the immediate foreground. This inventive layout, accentuated by the cropped, close-up viewpoint, creates the feeling of a private moment glimpsed in passing.

Although Khnopff produced few works in the vein of Hortensia, certain qualities developed in the canvas were key to his mature style: the muted palette, the carefully articulated geometries of the interior, and the sense of contemplative harmony. The association of women with flowers became a leitmotif in his art, albeit with heightened symbolic resonance.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.