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Belgium • 1858−1921

Biography and information

Fernand KnoopfThe full name of Fernand-Edmond-Jean-Marie Knopf (September 12, 1858, Grembergen, near Dendermonde, Flanders - November 12, 1921, Brussels) is the leading representative of Belgian symbolism, artist, writer, art critic.

Fernand Knoopf played a big role in the art of his time. His influence on many artists is indisputable. First of all, it affected the German symbolism, art nouveau, reflecting on the vision of Franz von Stuck, as well as the work of the Austrian Gustav Klimt.

Features of the artist Fernand Knopf: Knopf was a real dandy in his paintings. “His work can be expressed in four words - ... pride, isolation, cruelty and contempt. He also had a fanatical interest in accuracy: his compositions were never random, each effect was calculated, each detail had an exact place and a purposefulness of its appearance. ” This mathematical accuracy was accompanied by a fabulous entourage. Knopf liked to work with dark, slightly "painful" tones, so that his canvases seemed to be imbued with a mystical spirit. The atmosphere of silence and reverie, isolation and melancholy is invariably present in his paintings.

So the artist expressed his approach to symbolism. Knopf attracted the themes of introspection, temptation, mystery and mystery. Often the artist focused on the mythological images, especially on the female guises, appearing in the form of sphinxes and chimeras. But most of all, the artist was occupied by the image found by the Symbolists - the dualistic face of the “fatal woman”, a red-haired angel with a straight nose and a fine chin. Knopf was keenly interested in sleep and dreams, so the Greek dream god Hypnos became another favorite hero of his paintings and sculptures.

As for techniques and genres, Knopf’s work knew no bounds: he worked with graphics, pastels, illustrations, photography, and also with sculpture, was engaged in the design of buildings.
The most famous paintings of Fernand Knopf: "Art. Sphynx Tenderness","I'll close the door for myselfth "," Memories "," Silence ","Portrait of Marguerite Knoopf".

Medieval cloister
Fernand Knopf was born in a wealthy aristocratic family of the deputy prosecutor, he had brothers and sisters. One of the most picturesque places in Europe, the medieval city of Bruges, became native for Knopf. The artist's family lived in a three-story house, with windows opening directly above the slowly flowing channel. The perfect view for contemplation and melancholy.
Having left Bruges, the artist was afraid to return to it all his life, he was afraid that the changed face of the city would desecrate his childhood memories. And for good reason: at the beginning of the 20th century, more and more tourists visit Bruges, leaving no place for the familiar and so expensive Knopfu atmosphere. Only once, it seems, in 1907, the artist still had to come to Bruges. However, he crossed his hometown in a cab and in specially made black impermeable glasses.
In his later works, Knopf, as if wishing to at least mentally return to his childhood, will reproduce fantastic views of Bruges over and over again for forty years. The best, perhaps, of this series is “The Abandoned City”.
The Knopfs family moved to Brussels in 1864. Fernand spent part of his summer holidays in Tille, a village in the province of Luxembourg, where his maternal grandparents’s estate was located. The views of this village Knoopf also captures in his works.

Choosing a path
Since most of the members of the Knopf family were lawyers and judges, to please his father, Fernand enrolled in law school at the University of Brussels. However, interest in legal research in it has not awakened. But to read addicted seriously. Baudelaire, Flaubert, Leconte de Lisle and others, especially French writers, captured the future artist. Soon, along with his younger brother George, who shared his passion for poetry, Knopf joined the young Belgium writer group.
After a year of studying at the university, Knopf left law and began studying art and literature at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Brussels. He taught and inspired by the artist Xavier Mellery. A famous classmate Knopf became James Ensorwhich, however, he immediately disliked.
As a student, Knopf earned the recognition of the writer Philip Julian, who noted in him one of those rare decadents who are artists and aesthetes. With success, Fernand joins social life.

“Very penetrating metal eyes, a slightly pointed chin, a contemptuous mouth ... straight posture, impeccable costume, simplicity of manners. Aversion to carelessness. Yesterday's pastor, almost turned into a dandy. "
Emil Verharn

During his stay in Paris between 1877 and 1880, Knopf became acquainted with the works of Delacroix, Gustave Moreau, Ingres and Stevenson, as well as the work of the Miller and Burne-Jones pre-Raphaelite. All this made an impression on him and affected his further artistic path. In the last year of his studies at the Academy, Knopf began to neglect the lessons and for some time he moved to Passy, where he attended the free courses of Jules Joseph Lefebvre (at the Julian Academy).

Not secret societies
An exit on the art stage for Knopf took place in the Belgian exhibition society L'Essor in 1881. Among the harsh criticism is just one admiring review of Emil Verharn. In his face, Fernand will find a reliable supporter, as well as the author of his first monograph. The following year, Konff debuts again - already as a symbolist artist. He devotes his works to literature, primarily Gustave Flaubert.
In 1883, Knopf together with James Ensor became one of the founders of the artistic group Le Groupe des XX (Society XX). The group had no specific stylistic orientation, but supported various new directions in art, including avant-garde ones, providing an opportunity for young artists to declare themselves. Every year, the Twenty organized an art exhibition in Brussels, where they could take part as members of the group, and invited painters.
Soon, Fernand met the French writer Josephine Peladan, the future head of the Rosicrucian order. The artist took up the creation of the cover for the new book by Pelaadan Le Vice suprême (“Supreme Vice”), but destroyed the work. The fact is that the famous singer Rose Caron recognized herself in the portrait of Le Vice suprême Leonora d'Este. She was offended by this fact, the diva raised scandal in the press. However, Knoopfu played into his hands. His fame as an artist has increased significantly. Work with Pelaadan continued, Knopf illustrated his works, and also became an honorary guest at the exhibition of the Paris Order of the Rose and the Cross, where he himself soon presented his creations. In the future, the beloved England will be the place of regular exhibitions and frequent visits to Knopf.
Being an Anglophile, he tried to convince everyone of his British roots. True, his ancestors were not Anglo-Saxons, and had Portuguese and Austrian roots. However, Knoopff maintained the legend of meeting the artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti, although he first visited England after the death of the great Pre-Raphaelite.

The quest for meaning and inspiration
Knopf quickly became disillusioned with academic and impressionistic painting, as he believed - devoid of spiritual meaning, and developed his own style. It was important for the artist to accurately reflect the appearance of the model, conveying emotional excitement, a special tension of the internal state. He was important mystery, the mystery of personality. This approach Knopf successfully used in portraiture and earned popularity in Brussels society, especially among the urban elite. Despite the collapse of Society XX, Knopf’s career went uphill. His brushes belong to the portraits of Jeanne Kefer, Marie Monn, Jeanne de Bauer, children of Louis Neve and two portraits of his sister Margaret. I must say, Fernand often chose Margarita as a model, mainly working with her photos. There were rumors of his love for her.
Inspired by the artist's poetry, an example of this is the work "Who will save me" and "I will close the door behind me": the names are taken from the lines of the poetess Christina Rossetti, sister of the famous painter. At first glance, the picture “I will close the door behind myself” seems realistic, but looking closer, one can see the incoherence of perspectives. It is believed that Knoopf used montage in organizing symbols, resorted to a collage and did not shy away from the ideas of cubism.
Perhaps the most famous work of Knopf is the Sphinx. This is a variation of Oedipus and the Sphinx by Gustave Moreau (1864). The sphinx has a leopard body and a woman's face, namely, the face of Fernand's sister, Margarita. Next-androgynous young man, however, is also not devoid of features of the same Margarita. This scene has many interpretations and interpretations, but Knopf himself had the simplest. For him, the picture is an allegory of choice - power or pleasure.
For the first exhibition of the Vienna Secession in March 1898, Knopf prepared a collection of 21 of his works, which aroused great admiration of the audience. Among the audience was Gustav Klimt, in whose work the influence of the Belgian painter will now be noticeable.

Temple of creative genius
No less than Klimt, inspired by the Vienna Secession, Fernand set about a new grand project.
From 1900 to 1902, the artist began designing his own home and studio in Brussels. Here his own personality was most vividly expressed, the house resembled his paintings and embodied dreams. The building is crowned with a statue of the goddess Athena, and the interior, decorated with white, blue and gold hues, where only the frames, doors and windows were blackened, reminiscent of theatrical scenery. Here everything was symbolic. The house became a “temple of oneself”, where everything is arranged for the gift of the creator to flourish. Above the entrance door was inscribed the motto "We own only ourselves", and the artist himself in the workshop painted his paintings in the middle of the golden circle outlined on the white mosaic floor.
Here in the workshop was the altar of the god Hypnos, who for Knopf played the role of a personal symbol. According to the artist, Hypnos was the only god in whose reality he believed. The modern medical term "hypnosis" has occurred on behalf of the god Hypnos. The whole of Europe at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was fascinated by this phenomenon, as well as seances. In psychotherapy, hypnosis was practiced by Freud and Charcot. However, Knopf saw in Hypnos also a symbol of oblivion, a completely different, special level of perception and state of mind.
A year after the artist’s death, the studio was sold, and in the 1930s, Knopf’s house was demolished, with the approval of his family.

For the good of society
Fernand Knopf worked on social projects - he was an illustrator, decorator, sculptor, writer, photographer and designer. Among the first works are sketches for performances based on Georges Rodenbach’s play Mirage in 1903, which took place at the German Theater in Berlin. In the future, Knopf collaborated with the Opera Theater Royal Theater de la Monnier, creating more than a dozen of their productions as a decorator and costume designer. He worked on the decor of the “Wedding Hall” of the new Town Hall, the music room of the Stole Palace in Brussels - famous objects.
In isolation and in high esteem
Knopf was a rather reserved man and led a solitary life, but during his lifetime he gained world fame and recognition and was awarded the Belgian Order of Leopold. In the 1910s, exhibitions of works by the artist were held throughout Europe. Despite deteriorating health and weakening eyesight, the painter continued to create, as well as give drawing lessons and write about artists and about art.

Fernand Knopf went into the world of shadows and dreams in 1921 in Brussels at the age of 63 years.

Author: Irina Frykina