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Fernand Khnopff - Caresses

by Alexandra Tuschka

Oedipus and Sphinx tenderly bow their heads to each other - or should we rather say: the painter and his sister? For in the young man's face the painter has hidden a self-portrait; in the face of the Sphinx that of his sister. The latter repeatedly served as a model for him, so that her facial features recur in numerous works of the Belgian. Only her body was replaced by that of a leopard.

This expresses rather pleasure than threat. The buttocks are stretched unnaturally high - possibly a sign that the idyll is deceptive: if one separates the hindquarters, the cat could be about to pounce. Perhaps the story is from Honoré de Balzac's "Passion in the Desert", in which a soldier falls in love with a panther in the Egyptian wasteland.

The sphinx shown here has additional high, symbolic content, as she represents the epitome of the seductive femme fatale. In Greek mythology, the sphinx is strongly linked to a conflicted gender relationship. This makes the question of the relationship between the painter and his sister in this context all the more intriguing.

Fernand Khnopff - Caresses

Oil on canvas, 1896, 50.5 x 150 cm, Musée Royaux des Beaux-Arts in Brussels


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