Musée d'Orsay: Fernand Khnopff Portrait of Marie Monnom

Fernand Khnopff
Portrait of Marie Monnom

Portrait of Marie Monnom
Fernand Khnopff (1858-1921)
Portrait of Marie Monnom
Oil on canvas
H. 49.5; W. 50 cm
© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

Portrait de Marie Monnom [Portrait of Marie Monnom]

Fernand Khnopff made this Portrait of Marie Monnom, the daughter of a publisher in Brussels, in 1887. Monnom published the magazine L'Art moderne, the organ of the Belgian avant-garde, as well as the monograph which Emile Verhaeren wrote about the painter the same year. It was the first time that the artist, who had previously painted only children or his elderly mother, had painted a portrait of a young woman. On 16 September 1889, Marie Monnom was to marry Théo Van Rysselberghe, a close friend of Khnopff's.

As the model is shown in the artist's studio sitting in an armchair and seen from the side, the composition calls to mind the famous portrait that James Whistler made of his mother in summer 1871 (also in the Musee d'Orsay). It shares a number of elements with several portraits of women painted by Khnopff: the golden circle on the wall on the upper left, the gloves that Marie is wearing, the framing which slices off the subject's feet, forcing her to sit still. Nothing of the model's personality shows through; she is not looking at the spectator and her face, although in the light, is expressionless. The inner meditation in which she has plunged is accentuated on the formal plane by the vertical lines of the walls, curtains and door which accentuate her hieratic pose. It is also suggested by the golden disc, which symbolises not only infinity and perfection but also a point of concentration through which the individual can achieve inner peace.

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