Written more than twenty years after an initial monograph published in 1995 (Khnopff, ou, l’ambigu poétique, Crédit Communal/Flammarion), this work will be published to coincide with the retrospective of the artist to be presented at Paris’ Petit Palais museum from 9 December 2018.
The book opens up a window on the house and studio that Khnopff dedicated to his work in 1902. Based on original research, it tours the house, setting out the themes to be developed in the work. It also shines a light on Khnopff’s unique personality. This provides an understanding of his technique, which put design centre stage, at the same time as language and photography, as a way of understanding reality.
By wandering round the house, the reader enters Khnopff’s universe gradually, as his work reveals itself: landscapes, portraits and still lifes are returned to the context in which they were created and compared with artists such as Whistler and Burne-Jones.
These defining works that initially seem obvious open the door to an impenetrable approach to literary creation. On the one hand inspired by turn-of-the-century writers that go hand-in-hand with Khnopff’s pencil (such as Peladan, Verhaeren, Mallarmé and Rossetti), and on the other developing in his esoteric themes a form of iconographic narration whose reading codes could be lost. In this way, Khnopff is able to present a metaphysical image that examines the relationship to time and to silence, using motifs largely dependent on religious thought.
This aesthetic, which led to masterpieces described as “impenetrable”, such as I Lock My Door Upon Myself, Silence, A Blue Wing and The Caresses, would grant Khnopff an international reputation against the backdrop of the secession movement that dominated Europe at the end of the century. His work was presented in London and Vienna, where it had a profound influence on Klimt. The work culminated in a complete work of art which, under architect Hoffmann, allowed Khnopff and Klimt to contribute to Stoclet House with interventions that serve as an overview of their creative careers.
Michel Draguet is Professor of History of Art and Archaeology at the Université libre de Bruxelles and Managing Director of the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium. He is also a member of the Royal Academy of Archaeology of Belgium.