Fernand Khnopff

The present sheet is a delightful composition and study by Fernand Khnopff for his forthcoming illustrations of the L’Idée de Justice by Henri Carton de Wiart and to be published only later, in 1909. This opus was the only large one to be intended as a planche hors-texte, unlike the other fifteen little vignettes he composed for the book. He made a few studies for it and finally selected the composition where the figure and the sword are seen in larger proportion than the present drawing. The program built by Khnopff for the book had a large success at the time, even before its publication in the book. It was exhibited already from 1906 in many significant exhibitions, starting by L’Art décoratif modern belge in Milan in 1906.


Through his friend and lawyer Edmond Picard, Fernand Khnopff was involved in the critique of the legal systems and the philosophy of law. In the earlier La Forge Roussel, also illustrated by Khnopff, Picard delivers his vision of the Justice and the Law: “the Law is the sublime symbol of man’s struggle against nature.” Justice appears as a methodical creation of man struggling with the forces of the universe. The Law has pierced the hidden meaning of things and holds this secret that the work of art sketches in its emblematic forms. Khnopff remained attached to this mystical view of Justice. On his death, the content of his library testified to his passion for these questions, attesting a high consciousness of the moral mission that unites Art and Law.


The classical allegory of Justice represents a blindfold woman to assert its impartiality. Here, Khnopff chose to give the image of a Justice, with its eyes closed but, notwithstanding, that also remains a vigilant conscience, exercising its intrinsic logic and its relentless action, the symbol of which is the sword. This is a beautiful sheet.


The present work has been authenticated by Gisèle Ollinger-Zinque in 2014 and has been included in her new addendum under the no. 419 bis, to be published.

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