Fernand Khnopff (1858 – 1921)
Fernand Khnopff was a co-founder of the Symbolist artists’ group "Les Vingt" (The Twenty) that in 1883 became a center of the Belgian avantgarde. While in “Incense” Khnopff elevates his sister Marguerite to the personification of a high priestess, here he turns his view of Bruges into an enigmatic vision of a frozen world. With rich detail he depicts the Paradise portal of the late Gothic Church of Our Lady, flanked by the city palace of the Gruuthuse, whose sad, impenetrable mood is underscored by the closed doors and covered windows as well as by the monochrome gray coloration and the narrowness of the image. The square, devoid of people and apparently flooded with water, heightens the disturbing atmosphere of solitude and cultural of Bruges, which in art and literature around 1900 often becomes a morbid symbol of transience. 1892 saw the publication of the novel “Bruges-la-Morte” (“The Dead Bruges”) by Georges Rodenbach, the best-known Belgian Symbolist. As in the novel, the painting mirrors Khnopffs' central memories and pessimistic view of the world. It is an important and exemplary work of its time, reflecting the contemporary view of the city as a screen onto which the human spiritual condition is projected.