“I always meditate on my subjects for a long time before attempting to translate them. I am not one of those to amuse themselves to take as a point of departure a slash of crayon traced by chance. I want precision. I have unceasingly one goal from which nothing can deflect me. So that I am not distracted in spite of myself, it often occurs that I even take a pen and minutely describe my thought. Thus arrived, I feel in a better position to translate my vision.” – quoted by Edmond-Louis de Taeye, 1897.
Khnopff's father Edmond died on January 9, 1900 at Saint-Gilles, where Khnopff would stay until his house was finished January 14, 1902. Khnopff's widowed mother Marie moved to nearby Ixelles, where she lived until her death on November 21, 1906. Fifteen months later Fernand Khnopff married Marthe Worms, a thirty-three year old widow from Luxembourg with two young children, at the Ixelles town hall.
After the marriage, Khnopff lived with his new family in a home on boulevard General Jacques about one hundred meters from Villa Khnopff. He forbade his wife to enter his studio, the space consecrated to his work. They divorced in 1911 and Marthe married again in 1916; she died November 27, 1958, outliving Khnopff by decades Marriage seems to have altered Khnopff's portrayals of women. His later works, executed mostly in pastel, are often nudes and not the idealized, marmoreal images of the pre-Raphaelites. The women look directly at the artist/viewer, suggesting that the space between artist and the subject has been crossed.
Khnopff shared the Socialist sympathies of many Symbolists, like Horta who designed La Maison du Peuple (1899) for the betterment of the working class. The artist lectured at the educational branch of the Workers' Association on his favorite topics, early Flemish art and recent British art, and his classes were enthusiastically received. During the World War, Khnopff chose to stay in Brussels, sharing in the general hardships and using his influence to petition to the German occupiers for better living conditions.
In the wake of his divorce, the man who refused to admit his wife to his studio, invited a series of female journalists to interview him there: Maria Bierme in 1911; Zuzanna Rabska from Poland and Helene Laiillet in 1912. However another woman had got there first; an article appeared in Il Rinascemnto, a magazine published in Milan in April 1906, written by Margherita Sarfatti who, two decades later, became the biographer and mistress of Benito Mussolini.
(1871-1949) became interested in collecting art. As an traveling engineer, the Belgian Stoclet began to collect artists as well, buying his first Khnopff, Head of a Young Englishwoman, in Vienna in 1898 and becoming friendly with its creator. As you can see from other works Stoclet purchased, he shared Khnopff's love of the color blue. When Stoclet inherited a fortune in 1904, he commissioned the Viennese architect Josef Hoffmann to design a house in Brussels. Stoclet turned to Khnopff to design the murals for his music room. One panel , Albatross with a Broken Wing, was Khnopff's version of a scene from Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Khnopff was also commissioned to design the Wedding Room for the town hall at nearby Saint-Gilles.
Fernand Khnopff died soon after undergoing an operation at a private clinic on November 12, 1921. He was buried at the Laeken cemetery, near his mentor Xavier Mellery.
"The last representative of the spiritualist and symbolist school which flourished and then vanished thirty years ago, Fernand Khnopff, is dead. He was a completely distinguished and charming artists, discreet, aloof, retiring. His work was characterized by refined feeling and carfeul execution, but his 'literature' was very private and did not try to exert an influence even in Belgium. He painted for the initiate. He won the unreserved esteem and affection of those who knew him. He did not seek to stimulate the intellectual work, which takes only impresarios as its guides and not those who live in ivory towers." - Obituary published 1 December 1921 in Bulletin de la Vie Artistique, Brussels.
After Khnopff's death, the family destroyed his papers. The next year, his sister Marguerite Freson-Khnopff donated the artist's last self-portrait to the portrait Gallery of the Uffizi in Florence where it now graces the Vasari Corridor. The contents of his studio were sold on November 27, 1922 by Galerie Georges Giroux of Brussels, the same establishment that previously sold the atelier of his mentor Xavier Mellery.
Villa Khnopff was torn down in 1936, a casualty of a dispute between his brother's children. The photograph above is the last known image of Villa Khnopff.
1. fernand Khnopff - Study for Defiance, 1897, Adolphe Stoclet Collection, Brussels.
2. Unidentified photogrpaher - Villa Khnopff, c. 1902, Musee des Arts decoratifs, Paris.
3. The Blue Room at Villa Khnopff, 1912, Studio International, London.
4. Alexandre (possibly) - Fernand Khnopff in Front of Hypnos Altar, Villa Khnopff, no date, Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Brussels.
5. The Studio. VIlla Khnopff, 1912, Studio International, London.
6. Fernand Khnopff - Nude Study, 1910, Offa Gallery, Knokke-le-Zoute.
7. Pourqoui Pas? - Our Arbiter of Taste, cover, 15 December 1910.
8. Albatross with Broken Wing, c.1904, design for the music room at Palais Stoclet, Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Brussels.
9, A Blue Curtain, 1909, Adolphe Stoclet collection, Brussels.
10. Self-portrait, 1918, Uffizi Gallery, Florence.
11. Unidentified photographer - Villa Khnopff, 1935, Belgian Archive of National Patrimonie, Brussels.
12. Edmond Pelseneer - plan for L'Atelier Khnopff. Brussels, 1900, Archive of modern Architecture, Brussels.
13. Alcove at Villa Khnopff, with ivory mask by Khnopff, a crystal vase resting on it, and a wall hanging with Japanese cranes behind, 1912, Studio International, London.
For further reading: The Home of an Artist: M. Fernand Khnopff's Villa at Brussels by Helene Laillet was published in The Studio, LVII, December 1912, no. 237, p. 206 and The International Studio, XLVIII, January 1913, no. 191, p. 201. It is now reproduced online at Artmagick