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The Belgian artist, illustrator, sculptor, and photographer Fernand Khpff (1858-1921) became a popular society portraitist in the 1880s, using elements that had served him well as an avant-garde symbolist painter: visual realism and a mood of silence, isolation, and reverie. As in the provocative yet hauntingly beautiful Portrait of Jeanne Kefer, which is the focus of this book, he frequently posed his models leaning against a closed door, flattening the space and resulting in a meditative, hermetically sealed image. Jeanne Kefer was the daughter of a composer friend of the artist, and Khpff deftly captured the child's vulnerability to the outside world in the small gesture of her tiny thumb catching the edge of her bow. The book places this painting in the historical context of Khpff's times and social milieu, such as the advent of symbolism as a literary and artistic movement and the influence of James McNeill Whistler. The analysis of the portrait is supported by a stunning array of related paintings, details, and technical photographs. Finally, the author uses Khpff's portraits as a springboard for a broader discussion of symbolist art.
Michel Draguet is professor of modern and contemporary art and director of the center for research on Rene Magritte at the Free University of Brussels. He is a widely published author, most recently of the important monograph James Ensor and Treasures of Art Nouveau: Through the Collections of Anne-Marie Gilbert.