Magicienne oil on panel 18 x 7.3cm (7 1/16 x 2 7/8in). Painted circa 1906
PROVENANCE The artist's studio sale, Brussels, 27 November 1922, lot 18. The Piccadilly Gallery, London. Galleria dei Bibliofili, Milan. Philippe Daverio, Milan. Prof. Massimo Scolari, Venice (gift from the above circa 1970-73) Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1973.
EXHIBITED London, The Piccadilly Gallery; Eastbourne, Towner Art Gallery; and New York, Spencer A. Samuels, Symbolists (entitled The Queen), 1970.
LITERATURE J. Milner, Symbolists and Decadents, London, 1971 (illustrated p.106). R. L. Delevoy, C. de Croës and G. Ollinger-Zinque, Fernand Khnopff, Brussels, 1987, no.434 (illustrated p.354).
Magicienne is one of very few small-scale oil paintings by an artist more often encountered through his works on paper in charcoal, watercolour or pastel. Inspired by symbolism and allegory, Khnopff's oeuvre is one of ghost worlds, androgynies, fossilised cities and mysterious women. Two female figures inhabit his compositions in particular the Sphinx and the Queen. Surrounded by emblems, these surreal creatures often appear to float in space, isolated in their lonely and distant reveries.
Magicienne depicts a strong woman invested with unearthly powers, standing alone in the narrow space, a format favoured by the artist. Dressed in rich robes and adorned with heavy jewellery she stands immobile and implacable. Khnopff presents her in a typically elaborate and highly decorative manner, her regal air perhaps explaining her previous misidentification as a Queen.
The formative influences of Delacroix, Gustave Moreau and the Pre-Raphaelites, particularly Rossetti and Burne-Jones, and the artist's love of Symbolist poetry and Decadent literature are suffused through the depiction of the Magicienne. She represents an ideology of doubling, simultaneously close and far away, blurred and precise, strong and fragile. Further, Khnopff seems to be paying tribute to his personal philosophy On ne a que soi (one only has oneself), making this work both introspective and out of reach.
In the early 1970s Magicienne was acquired by the Galleria dei Bibliofili in Milan, founded by Piero Fornasetti, one of the most innovative designers of the twentieth century. Along with his friend Gio Ponti, Fornasetti revolutionised interior design and was instrumental in making Italian design famous all over the world. It passed from Bibliofili to Philippe Daverio, a professor and art critic well known in Italy for his original and highly popular TV art programmes. Daverio then gifted the painting to the renowned architect, painter and designer Massimo Scolari.