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So unique: Fernand Khnopff

Ferdand Khnopff - 18th January at 14h30 - Sale So Unique



18 January 2024 in Brussels at 2.30 pm

Estimation gratuite Fernand Khnopff

j. Ganz, Archives de la Ville de Bruxelles / Archief van de Stad brussel, Archives privées 216


Fernand KHNOPFF (1858 -1921)

Portrait of Yvonne Suys, 1890 - Oil on panel


So unique: Fernand Khnopff


Estimation gratuite Fernand Khnopff

Fernand KHNOPFF (1858-1921)

Portrait of Yvonne Suys, 1890

Oil on panel

Signed lower right: "FERNAND KHNOPFF

72.1 x 47.9 cm



- Collection of Mr Albert Sarens and Mrs Yvonne Suys, Brussels

- Private collection, Brussels (passed on by descent)



Brussels, "Fernand Khnopff et ses rapports avec la Sécession viennoise", Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, 2 October to 6 December 1987 (cat. p.46 reproduced in colour, p.115 reproduced, n°25)

Label on the back of the panel.



- Louis Dumont-Wilden, Fernand Khnopff, Collection des Artistes belges contemporains, Bruxelles, Librairie Nationale d'Art et d'Histoire - G. Van Oest & Cie, 1907, p. 71

- X, Fernand Khnopff, in Notices Biographiques et Bibliographiques, concernant les Membres, les Correspondants et les Associés, 1907-1909, Brussels, Académie Royale de Belgique, 1909, p. 753

- Maria Biermé, Les Artistes de la Pensée et du Sentiment, Bruxelles, Editions de la Belgique Artistique et Littéraire, 1911, p.2 - Paul Lambotte, Les Peintres de Portraits (collection de l'Art belge au XIXe siècle), Bruxelles - Paris, Librairie Nationale d'Art et d'Histoire - G. Van Oest & Cie, 1913, p. 126.

- Jean Delville, Notice sur Fernand Fernand Khnopff, in Annuaire de l'Académie Royale des Sciences, Lettres et des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, 1925, 91st year, p.24

- Gustave Deltour, Fernand Khnopff Artiste - Peintre, in La Belgique d'Aujourd'hui, Berlin - Charlottenburg, Adolf Eckstein, s.d., p. non num.

- Robert L. Delevoy, Catherine de Croës, Gisèle Ollinger-Zinque, Fernand Khnopff Catalogue de l'œuvre, Lebeer-Hossmann, Brussels, 1987, no. 150, p.255 (reproduced)

- Michel Draguet, Khnopff ou l'ambigu poétique , Snoeck-Ducaju & Zoon , Crédit Communal, 1995, n°96 ,pp.85,88 (reproduced), 89 - Michel Draguet, Portrait of Jeanne Kéfer, Getty Museum Studies on Art, Los Angeles, 2004, pp.71, 74, 77, 78, 79 (reproduced) - Thierry Scaillet, Dorothée Schneider, Histoire de la famille Dupret 17e -20e siècle - En affaires et en politique, de Ath à Bruxelles, 2019, p.267-268 (reproduced)


Estimate: €200,000 / €400,000


Yvonne Suys: expert's note

Yvonne Suys was born in Brussels in 1883. She was the granddaughter of Léon-Pierre Suys (1823-1887), the famous Brussels architect responsible for the Thermes de Spa, the Palais de la Bourse and the vaulting of the River Senne in Brussels. She was the daughter of Paul Suys (1855-1886) and Anna Rittweger (1862-1893) and married Albert Sarens (1878-1922) in 1904. In 1907, the couple had a private mansion built at 72 Avenue de Tervueren in Brussels (the present Hôtel Sarens-Suys, now the Brussels headquarters of Banque Delen). The Sarens-Suys couple had a large collection of paintings, including works by Jan Brueghel, Louis Artan, Eugène Laermans, Gustave Courbet, Alfred Stevens and Pierre-Paul Rubens. Yvonne died in Etterbeek in 1925 at the age of 41.


Behind the child, the woman

Fernand KHNOPFF was a renowned portrait painter. He exhibited his first portrait of a child in 1884 at the XX exhibition.

In 1890, he painted the portrait of Yvonne Suys, then aged 7, from a photograph (now in the Brussels City Archives).

Khnopff's best-known portraits of children are the portrait of Mademoiselle Van der Hecht in 1883 (D.C/O.Z. n°54, MRBAB inv.3980), the portrait of Jeanne Kéfer in 1885 (D.C/O.Z. n°82, Getty Museum inv.97pA.35), the portrait of Simone Héger in 1885 (D.C/O.Z. n° 73), the portrait of Gabrielle Braun in 1886 (D.C/O.Z. n° 92) and the portrait of Eugénie Verhaeren in 1888 (D.C/O.Z. n° 107).

In 1890, Khnopff painted portraits of other children, including Jeanne de Bauer, Albert Braun, Robert Vanderborght and Jules Philippson. These children, painted by Khnopff, were usually soberly dressed, more like dolls. However, in the portraits of little Germaine Wiener (painted in 1893, MRBAB inv. 10948) and little Yvonne Suys, their outfits look less like those of a little girl than those of a woman.

The portrait of Yvonne Suys is the first portrait by Khnopff to feature a flower. Since the Renaissance, the flower held by a young girl has symbolised virginity, often about to be proposed. Khnopff is following in a long iconographic tradition here.

The iris, a symbol of femininity since Greek Antiquity, is, after the young girl, the main character in our painting. What's more, its blood-red colour refers us to menstruation, the age of puberty when a child becomes a woman. This passage into adulthood at the time of the first menstrual period was all the more marked and important in the 19th century. Here, Yvonne Suys is wearing two pieces of jewellery and holding a pair of gloves in her right hand. In the 19th century, jewellery was a strong symbol of femininity and a marker of social status. However, the bracelet worn on the right wrist (probably a rush bracelet) deserves attention. In the 19th century, this type of bracelet replaced the small bracelet or bracelet gourmette received as a child. This piece of jewellery is therefore also a reminder of a girl's passage into adulthood.

The green velvet coat trimmed with fur worn by Yvonne Suys is not a child's coat, but a woman's coat. It evokes a high social status through the preciousness of its materials. Khnopff, not being a painter of colour, generally uses it to convey an idea through symbolism. Traditionally, green symbolised love, fertility and hope. In the 19th century, these three concepts were all that parents wanted for their daughters as they entered adulthood. This portrait is almost a prayer for a good future marriage.

According to Michel Draguet, here "the portrait of a child prefigures a portrait of a woman" (Michel Draguet, Portrait of Jeanne Kéfer, Getty Museum Studies on Art, Los Angeles, 2004, p.78). Indeed, the symbols of the red flower, the rush bracelet and the green colour of the coat crystallise her impending destiny as a woman. Furthermore, the jewels, the precious velvet and fur, and the gloves are attributes that allow the subject to embody the ideal of the late nineteenth-century bourgeois woman and reflect the position of the Suys family. The symbols in our painting, although linked to an ancestral iconographic vocabulary invoking mythology and tradition, are highly modern, in tune with fin-de-siècle thinking and life.

In the symbolism embodied by Fernand Khnopff, the symbols are not demonstrative but suggestive. Ideas are delicately evoked behind reality. Here, behind the child, Khnopff sees a woman.


A symbolist subject, half angel, half sphinx

This work is typical of the bourgeois portrait of the period, depicting a young girl, angelically fringed, of great beauty, coiffed and dressed in accordance with her social rank. She embodies the delicacy and refinement demanded of a girl or woman at the time. This brings us back to the figure of the angel, wise, tender, beautiful and poetic, embodying good family and bourgeois values.

As in most of Khnopff's portraits, the background is difficult to define. Here, Yvonne Suys seems to be immersed in the composition, the absence of perspective and the greyish background serving as a frame, bringing the subject to the fore, whose gaze pierces the viewer.

Khnopff's female figures are silent, addressing the viewer through their eyes. This is reminiscent of Medusa, the mythological figure with the world's most famous piercing gaze, and a great inspiration to the artist. The Sphinx, Khnopff's embodiment of the powerful, fatal and tempting woman, also has this sharp, silent gaze. This mythological creature can also be found in some of the artist's most famous paintings: Le vice Suprême, 1885 (D.C/O.Z. no. 79), Un ange, 1889 (D.C/O.Z. no. 124), and Les caresses, 1896 (D.C/O.Z. no. 275, MRBAB inv.6768). Yvonne Suys's penetrating gaze is accentuated by her leaning, slightly swaying posture, which gives her a certain assurance and a charming allure, like the mysterious and dangerous Sphinx announcing his fatal and legendary enigma.

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