While exploring works of the symbolist movement—conveying ideas of sexuality and femininity through unorthodox and irrational images straying from realism—I found a common theme: the “duality” of women. I believe the intertwining of Romantic works and Surrealists works in both the poetry and art of the era, evoked quizzical yet sensual and inviting introspections of the women portrayed. However, most critics emphasize this “duality” and claim the women appear sensual, yet deceiving and conniving. With this, the layers and complexity of the female emotions within these artworks are diminished and forced into submission.
Especially in, Un Masque à la tenure mauve, Fernand Khnopff possesses multiple of his own meanings behind the interaction of a close up of an orange woman’s face and the female figurine she holds. Amplifying the sexuality and mystique of the female form, Khnopff contrasts the fervent stare of the red headed woman against the aura of a blue orb surrounding the nude female figurine. The contrasting colors of blue and orange are overwhelming yet calming. The discrepancy in the forms of the two females makes them seem unrelated yet connected. Each aspect of his work has a duality in meaning, or even just ambivalence. Khnopff’s goal was to persuade viewers to reach beyond superficiality and delve into the subjectiveness of one’s own mind; there is more than sensuality and deceit.
The mystique of womanhood most efficiently reflects Khnopff’s themes of irresolution and vagueness. He provokes viewers to look for an answer to his works, which he never provides. In Un Masque à la tenure mauve, the idea of a “mask” within the image forces viewers to expand their perception of the definition of a “mask” and create a connection with the woman’s face. Many believe the mask is representative of the woman’s deception, forcing her to have a one-dimensional personality. Truthfully, I do not see Khnopff as forcing the red headed figure’s complexity into submission by covering her with a “mask” of sensuality. Instead I view the piece as layering multitudes of emotions on top of each other, intentionally making the figure’s personality harder to read.
With this I want to amplify the appreciation and validity of women as being more than sexual objects and deceivers. We are not one dimensional, we are not wearing masks of lies. We hold an overabundance of emotions, opinions, and liveliness. Upon multiple viewings of Un Masque à la tenure mauve, I have seen pain, confusion, lust, longing, euphoria, and acceptance within the woman’s unmoving, unchanging expression; I see my own layers. We do not possess a “duality.” We possess identities that need exploration and appreciation.