Khnopff’s oil of Des Caresses (fig.1) is one of his most renowned paintings. It was instantly sold upon the first Viennese Succession in 1898, and became part of the collection of Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium in 1956. It’s subject, the caress of a sphinx with the body of a leopard (or, as Khnopff claimed, a Cheetah) with an androgen, developed a “feeling of ambiguity mixed with temptation, seduction and submission. The confrontation of the androgen with the sphinx against the imaginary backdrop filled with blue columns and cabalistic inscriptions gives rise to many different interpretations. Is it [sic] symbolising power, domination and seduction? Or is it rather the image of Khnopff himself, confronted by his own reflection, his sister Marguerite, the unobtainable muse? Maybe it also refers to the age-old vision of Oedipus and the Sphinx. The work always has and always will cause us to reflect.” (G. Ollinger-Zinque, Fernand Khnopff, Belgium, 2004, p. 237).
In this reprise of the larger oil there is a mysterious beauty where Khnopff focuses on the central point of the caress, the meeting of cheeks of the androgen and the sphinx. The distractions, such as the cabalistic inscriptions, are removed. The monochromatic palette lends a dreamlike lens to the subjects. The cheetah’s coat is replaced by a shawl, making the work appear at first hand more-accessible, but none-the-less shrouded in mystery. The use of mixed media, particularly tracing paper, lends a unique sense of the ethereal to the current work.
It has been suggested that this work was executed for Khnopff’s aesthetic house which he built in Brussels around 1900.
We are grateful to Gisèle Ollinger-Zinque for her assistance in cataloguing the present lot.