Work in the spotlight

Fernand Khnopff: 'Melisande'. Pastel and coloured pencil on paper, 330 x 330 mm

Ferdinand Khnopff
Grembergen (Dendermonde, Belgium) 1858 - Sint-Joost-ten-Node (Brussels, Belgium) 1921

Pastel and coloured pencil on paper, 330 x 330 mm
© RMFAB, Brussels

Fernand Khnopff Melisande


Fernand Khnopff made this and a nearly identical pastel probably in 1907, when he designed costumes for Pelléas and Mélisande, an opera by Debussy after Maeterlinck performed that year at La Monnaie in Brussels. Both the theater characters of Maeterlinck and the opera music of  Wagner and Debussy were a major source of inspiration for Khnopff and his Belgian colleagues at the end of the 19th century. This pastel reflects the interaction between literature, theater and music so typical of the era.

The theme of this work evokes the world of silence and withdrawal dear to Khnopff and Maeterlinck. The circle is a frequently recurring motif in the work of Khnopff. It represents the closed world in which Khnopff withdraws himself, the dream, the afterlife, intimacy, and withdrawal. Even the mirror is displayed in an implicit way and refers to a reflection on oneself.

This version of Mélisande was originally in the collection of Léo Errera who was part of a large family of collectors in Brussels. It was purchased for the Museums at an auction in 2012.