At Ixelles, near Brussels, emerging from the mists of the bois de la Cambre, his home was a temple. Those who were invited by Fernand Khnopff (1858-1921) to discover these places, designed by the architect Edward Pelseneer (and, unfortunately, destroyed in 1939) had to bend to the ritual, to move in procession. Parts, blue soft or a crisp white, fragrant. It was played Schumann,Chopin,Debussy, Wagner, Liszt, Jongen or Indy. We sang at the moment of Mallarmé, Rodenbach, Verhaeren. We outlined a genuflection in front of the paintings and sculptures symbolists. The artist had prepared like so many altar servants. The shadow of the whimsical mage Peladan loomed.

In the oils, such as in the drawings or busts, Hypnos has the features of Margaret, the sister of the artist. It is a beautiful red-haired lanky, profile Greek and look washed-out, melancholic

The room that served as a studio was a sanctuary prohibited by a railing of brass. When Khnopff was linked to his easel, he worked within a circle of gold. This house, a work of total art, is mentioned in the retrospective at the Petit Palais (until 17 march). It had its tutelary god, Hypnos, who presides over the dreams and whose emblem is the flower of poppy. In the oils, such as in the drawings or busts, Hypnos has the features of Margaret, the sister of the artist. It is a beautiful red-haired lanky, profile Greek and look washed-out, melancholic. In her dress of ivory, it seems to multiply the ghostly apparitions. Khnopff was certainly too loved. Up in incest? Michel Draguet, director, Musées royaux des beaux-arts in Brussels and commissioner, leaving the question hanging. However, it points a finger to the title of a work I Lock My Door Upon Myself (“I close the door on me”) – that sounds like a confession. The truth of the locked motion of the atmospheres of the rarified, cold and precious as the lead turned into gold or coal into diamond. Children disturbing, landscape of the Ardennes, or Bruges-la-Morte, the city where Khnopff had spent his childhood. It drowns with a relish morbid in its waters amniotic.

“Fernand Khnopff, master of the enigma”, a Small Palace (Viii) until 17 march. Cat. Paris-Museums, 96 p., 11,90€, and Ed. Fonds Mercator, 304 p., 49,95 €. www.petitpalais.paris.fr

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