A Study in Pale

Portrait of Jeanne Kefer, Fernand Khnopff, 1885

Screwonhead herringbone beach whites

Reading:  Michel Daguet, The Portrait of Jeanne Kéfer (2004)

“The economy of the palette goes hand in hand with the very measured manual gesture that leads Khnopff to prefer tight brushwork.”—Michel Daguet

Fernand Khnopff was a Flemish portrait painter active at the turn of the 19th century. I discovered his work in The Portrait of Jeanne Kéfer, a book available as a free digital download from the Getty Museum. Daguet’s analysis of the Kéfer painting is good, but I didn’t care much for his overstrained theoretical arguments. Still, it’s an interesting peek at the fin-de-siècle Flemish art scene and the way it connected with trends in France and England. Definitely worth a glance….as are many of the other titles in the series. Degas: Waiting, for instance, was excellent.

Khnopff was a portraitist who dismissed photography as an art form, but used it as a tool in his painting. I’ve been thinking about photography too, lately. His was a form of Impressionism influenced by rough-hewn modernist techniques and the luminous precision of Memling. Perfect. Khnopff’s work appealed to me right away.

What has been unexpected is the appeal that his subtle, pale palette has for me. I generally prefer an intense kaleidoscope of color; it must be the monkish side of me surfacing, I guess. Still, I’ve been looking at a number of things lately with more subdued palettes: the coloring in Mignola’s The Amazing Screw-On Head,  the subtle hues, textures and patterns in classic menswear styling and the harmonious pales I like in beach home interiors.

Will my own work change from its desire for flamboyantly color? Probably not. Maybe it is just the changeable spring weather that has me torn between stormy grays and the riotous floral palette just breaking out, but whatever it is, subtle harmonies really excite my interest right now. If only spring would definitely arrive…

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