Mrs Gisèle Ollinger-Zinque has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
Executed circa 1910, Tête de femme shows one of Fernand Khnopff's most favoured themes: Woman. Here, Khnopff's idiosyncratic composition, which is tightly cropped around the face alone, removes any distractions, emphasising the subject's gaze and engaging the viewer directly. Her inscrutable, Sphinx-like features reveal her to be a form of cousin to many of Khnopff's greatest subjects, from his sister to Medusa to Hypnos, the personification of sleep. This picture can be seen to relate both to Khnopff's own private world and to those mythical and archetypal figures, straddling the world of the 'real' and that which lies beyond in a manner perfectly suited to his embrace of Symbolism, of which he was one of the great protagonists in the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries. In Tête de femme, Khnopff has combined the bracing stare of the pale eyes with the deliberately tightly-framed composition which excludes any extraneous details, creating a poetic, timeless vision that perfectly demonstrates the Symbolist aesthetic that had so inspired artists such as Gustav Klimt. It is a mark of his Khnopff's skill that he has introduced such mysticism into the portrait format. Indeed, one wonders whether this face is based directly on one of the women whom Khnopff used as models, whether it is in fact a portrait, or whether it is, as was often the case in his work, the image of his female ideal, a hybrid created through the merging of a range of sources and inspirations.
By the time that Tête de femme was executed, Khnopff was living in a house that had been created according to his own designs and desires. A zone of voluntary seclusion and contemplation, the house had several shrine-like areas: one was dedicated to his earliest Muse, his sister Marguerite; another featured a replica of a Hellenistic bust of Hypnos (the original is in the British Museum). Khnopff had been greatly inspired by this bust and its implications: sleep is the portal to dream and therefore to a world crucial to Symbolism. In Tête de femme, the square jaw-line of the woman recalls this sculpture, hinting at the degree to which this picture is intended to serve as some form of quasi-devotional object. For the artist, a confirmed Anglophile, this also related to the Pre-Raphaelites such as Edward Burne-Jones, whose influence is evident in both the spirituality and the 'look' of the subject in Tête de femme.