To the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art,
at Cornell University, in New York
Le Sang de Méduse, 1898
[ Delevoy/Croes/Zinque 319 ]
Lithograph, 1 of 5, artist's proof | 215 x 145 mm
Monogrammed lower left 'FK', entangled
Private collection, Brussels
RELATED WORKS :
An example conserved at the Cabinet des Estampes of the Royal Library Albert I in Brussels (inv. S.V 88421) is accompanied by a handwritten note: "Lithogr. de F. Knopff [sic] tirée à 5 exempl."
Three other versions are known to have been printed on japanese paper and coloured.
© Cedric Verhelst
Click image to enlarge
L. Dumont-Wilden, Fernand Khnopff, Brussels, 1907, ill. p. 63 (detail)
N. Eemans, Fernand Khnopff, Antwerp, 1950, ill. pl. 12 (titled: "Méduse au chef tranché")
R.L. Delevoy, C. DE Croes, G. O. Zinque, Fernand Khnopff, Catalogue raisonné, Ed. Lebeer-Hossmann, 1979, n° 319, p. 313
L. Hevesi, Acht Jahre Secession, Vienna, 1906, p. 32
C. Lemonnier, L'Ecole belge de la Peinture, 1830-1905, Brussels, 1906, ill. p. 172
M. Biermé, Les artistes de la Pensée et du Sentiment, Brussels, 1911, p. 37
Belgian Art in Exile, London, 1916, ill. pl. 35
H.H. Hofstätter, Symbolismus und die Kunst der Jahrhundertswende, Cologne, 1965, ill. pl. 71
F.-C. Legrand, Le Symbolisme en Belgique, Brussels, 1971, p. 69
C. Munari, Arte e costume del Secolo XIX, 1976, ill. p. 69
R.L. Delevoy, Journal du Symbolisme, Geneva, 1977, ill. p. 105
Versions of the present work have been exhibited in at least 19 exhibitions around the world as recorded in the catalogue raisonée from 1979.
Fernand Khnopff's iconic "Médusa" is widely regarded as one of the great masterpieces of Belgian Symbolism at the turn of the century. Five versions of the present work are known to exist. Except for a preparatory sketch in pencil on paper, all of these versions have a lithographic base. However, three versions are known to have been printed on japanese paper and were hand coloured; while two versions (the present sheet and the one in the Royal Library in Brussels) have not been finished by hand and rather form part of the process. Khnopff was extremely meticulous in his graphic production, personally following through every step of the process, printing by his own hand, and making sure that his best works remained extremely limited and rare editions as to not have them spoiled by commercialism. The present sheet is to be understood as an artist's proof: as it was printed on the verso of a contemporary print by another artist, it only served the artist as a proof. By making a proof, Khnopff wanted to check the result of his lithographic drawing before starting to print his three examples on expensive japanese paper. As such it is also believed the present sheet was not meant to be sold, but probably made its way out of Khnopff's studio as a gift to a friend.
"Le Sang de Méduse" was exhibited for the first time at the Wiener Secession in 1898. In his book on Fernand Khnopff (1907), Louis Dumont-Wilden records "Le Sang de Méduse" as being part of the collection of M. Mayer-Stametz in Vienna. It is thus most likely that Khnopff already sold the first version when it was exhibited for the first time. One version however, always stayed with the artist and went on to form part of the collection inherited by his sister Marguerite Freson-Khnopff. Also in 1907, Marie Biermé gives her account of a visit to Khnopff's house and studio in La Belgique artistique et littéraire: "Citons, entre tant d'autres : « Une tête de méduse » dont l'artiste n'a jamais voulu se défaire. Elle est extraordinaire, en effet, par le faire et par l'expression, cette tête à l'atroce et douloureuse coiffure, aux lèvres minces, aux yeux perçants et tout emplis, plus encore que de cruauté, du vaste ennui de devoir tuer et ensevelir, tout à la fois, sous la pierre ceux que leur regard atteindra." On today, all versions, except for the one in the Royal Library in Brussels, are held in distinguished private collections around the world. Due to their iconic nature they are destined to be the works that will continue to represent the height of Fernand Khnopff's oeuvre and Belgian Symbolism in general.