Who is Fernand Khnopff?
An artist who first came to my attention when a customer requested The Sphinx.
This was clearly a well- loved picture as it was ordered in the largest possible format. I was struck by the mysterious subject matter, emotional content, and the strange artist’s name.
The Sphinx, or The Caresses, represents a version of the story of Oedipus and the Sphinx, in which Oedipus must answer a riddle or be torn to pieces. The Sphinx blocked the mountain path to the city of Thebes, and many travellers had met their fate there. The story goes that Oedipus answers the riddle correctly, continues to Thebes, becomes the King, and marries the Queen who unfortunately turns out to be his mother. He is so upset by this that he blinds himself.
Khnopff was a contemporary of Gustav Klimt whose iconic painting The Kiss has been a bestselling image for many years. Although Khnopff lived and worked in Brussels, and Klimt in Vienna, there are similarities in style and both are regarded as Symbolist painters.
We are loving Khnopff’s strikingly beautiful and strange images like ‘Silence‘ (is he wearing marigolds?) and ‘The Sleeping Medusa‘ – another fantastical creature and a version of Medusa with no snakes.
In ‘Roses‘ the atmosphere of calm and beauty is disturbed by the lady’s strange eyes.
It is interesting to compare Klimt’s Pine Forest with Khnopff’s ‘Under Fir Trees‘. Klimt painted his picture in 1902, but Khnopff’s fir trees were completed eight years earlier in 1894. I wonder if one inspired the other.
Van Gogh’s Ear
Surely one of the most bizarre museum exhibits ever is a replica human ear currently on show at the Centre for Art and Media in Karlsruhe, Germany. Created by a 3-D printer, the ear contains actual DNA sampled from a descendant of Vincent Van Gogh himself, and is being kept alive in ‘a case full of nourishing fluids’. The exhibit opened on May 30th with a lecture by none other than Noam Chomsky, and, stranger still, the Ear is part of a work called ‘Sugababe’. I have checked that it isn’t April 1st, so it must be true. The artist, Diemut Strebe, wanted to combine art and science, and has surely succeeded in grabbing the world’s attention.
In honour of this macabre but highly modern artefact, here are three self-portraits by Van Gogh, including the famous ‘with bandaged ear’.