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Fernand Khnopff


Like many Symbolist artists, Fernand Khnopff (1858–1921) declined to paint modern urban life. His distaste for the new progressive thinking and the growing problems of fast-expanding cities explain why his works seek to lead the viewer into an imaginary, isolated world of half-light and silence rather than noisy city streets.

Khnopff was born in Grembergen, Belgium, and trained under Xavier Mellery at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels. In 1879 he moved to Paris, where he studied at the Académie Julian and in Jules Lefebvre’s studio. He was a founder member of the Belgian avant-garde group Les XX in 1883 and exhibited with La Libre Esthétique and at Sâr Péladan’s Salon de la Rose + Croix in Paris in 1892–1894 and 1897.

He was inspired by the work of British artists such as Edward Burne-Jones and John Everett Millais, and was the Brussels correspondent for the English periodical The Studio. Many of his works and sculptures in the 1890s address the central concerns of Symbolism, including the relationship between dream and reality. He also adopted the appearance of a dandy, withdrawing to the Villa Khnopff in Brussels, where, like the hero of J.-K. Huysmans’s decadent novel A Rebours (Against Nature) of 1884, he sought inspiration in solitude and art.