With artists like Gustave Klimt, Franz von Stuck and Gustave Moreau, Fernand Khnopff shared a definite predilection for antique models and myths. As such, the original inspiration for the present work was almost certainly a small 4th Century B.C. bronze statue, attributed to Skopas, which the artist had seen on a visit to the British Museum.
Dreams and the unconscious were central to Khnopff's art (he often
declared that "Sleep is the most perfect thing in life") and Hypnos, the Greek god of sleep, became such a significant figure to the artist that he installed a shrine to him in his own home, topped with a plaster bust of his hero. A contemporary photograph showing Khnopff posing before this "altar" is inscribed with the phrase "On n'a que soi" (One has only one's self).
The plaster bust of Hypnos first appears in Khnopff's 1891 painting, I lock my door upon myself (Neue Pinakothek, Munich), a work inspired by the 1864 poem by Christina Rossetti, Who Shall Deliver Me. The theme is taken up again in A Blue Wing (1894; Private Collection), and in White, Black and Gold (1901; Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels). In or around 1900, the bust became one of only two works by Khnoppf to be cast in bronze, the other being his Head of Medusa. Only one other (monogrammed) cast of Hypnos is known to exist.