Portrait de Marguerite

One of the masterpieces of the famous Belgian symbolist painter Fernand Khnopff (1858-1921) has been brought back from the United States. The work is a portrait of the artist’s sister Marguerite and one that Khnopff always wanted to keep. The painting was the focal point of his ‘Blue room’, a sort of sanctuary in his Brussels home where Khnopff kept his favourite works and reproductions.

On the artist’s death, the painting was inherited by his sister Marguerite and it remained in the family until 1984, when it became part of a private American collection. The King Baudouin Foundation was able to purchase the portrait in an auction in New York on 28 February 1991 and return it to Belgium, where it can now be admired at the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts.

The Portrait de Marguerite illustrates the foundation of Khnopff portraiture. With this work, he introduced a new theme, that of the mysterious woman. Using his favourite model, his own sister, the artist represented his ideal woman. His aim was less that of reproducing the specificity of his subject and more that of elaborating a certain type of female.

The idealized Marguerite represented here is inaccessible: we can in no way establish a contact with her. The young woman stands, almost symmetrically, in front of a closed door that encloses her universe in the background, whilst in the foreground, Marguerite distances herself from the onlooker. Only her gaze would enable us to see into her soul, but she turns away from us. Her white, high-collared dress holds tight her silhouette like a corset. Her feet are not visible in the portrait and her hands are enclosed in long white gloves, leaving nothing of her personality to escape. Her face, uncovered, is also idealized behind a somewhat sad appearance. Her left hand reaches out somewhat unnaturally from behind her back to clasp her right arm, as if preventing it from signalling anything to the onlooker.

Bibliography
Robert Delevoy, Catherine De Croës, Gisèle Ollinger-Zinque, Fernand Khnopff. Catalogue de l’œuvre, Brussels, Lebeer Hossmann, 1987.
Gisèle Ollinger-Zinque, Fernand Khnopff, Portrait de Marguerite, Brussels, King Baudouin Foundation, 1991.
Michel Draguet, Khnopff ou l’ambigu poétique, Ghent, Snoeck-Ducaju & Zoon, 1995.
Frederik Leen, Dominique Maréchal, Sophie Van Vliet, Fernand Khnopff (1858-1929), exh.cat., Brussels, MRBAB, 2004.

Site Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique

Further information about the Heritage Fund (in French)

Type: 
Painting
Material / technique: 
Oil on canvas mounted on wood
Dimensions: 
96 x 74,5 cm
Type of acquisition: 
Heritage Fund acquisition
Year of acquisition: 
1991
Depository institution: 
Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels