Next month we welcome a revised English edition of what could be the ultimate book about the exceptional Ostend painter Léon Spilliaert.
Anne Adriaens-Pannier, former curator at the Royal Museums of Fine Arts in Brussels, has been working on the catalogue raisonné of the oeuvre of Léon Spilliaert since 1995 at his family’s request. She pays tribute to the Ostend artist with an illustrated book, in which she describes his drawings and paintings, as well as referring to his book illustrations and lithographs. The author presents Spilliaert as a link between the major art movements in the fascinating era in which he lived and worked.
Vertigo, 1908, India ink, water-colour and crayon on paper, 64 x 48 cm, Mu.Zee, Ostend
Sense of mockery
Rooted in the Symbolist tradition of the fin-de-siècle and drawn to the avant-garde, Léon Spilliaert (1881–1946), was a loner who never occupied a clear place in the art of his time. He shared not only his home port of Ostend with James Ensor, but also his sense of mockery and irony, non-conformity and an urge to view the world differently.
Atmosphere of mystery
Spilliaert, however, created a spiritual visual language of his own, experimenting with pastels and gouache, playing with purified expanses of colour and elegant lines. The moonlit sea, solitary, vacantly gazing figures, beaches stripped of all human presence, empty rooms and stylized, backlit silhouettes – Spilliaert invariably evoked an atmosphere of mystery, magic and alienation in line and colour.
Self-Portrait with Mirror, 1908, India ink, water-colour and pastel on paper, 48 x 63 cm, Mu.ZEE, Ostend
Brutally candid self-portraits
In 1998 Michael Palmer wrote an article about Spilliaert in The Low Countries. He called him a “troubled and troubling” painter.
“That Spilliaert’s paintings more than those of most other artists were landscapes of his emotions is most apparent in his self-portraits. These disturbed and disturbing pictures, mostly painted in 1907 and 1908, are among the most searching scrutinies of Self ever recorded. The artist’s strange face, with its dark-ringed protuberant eyes and fait moustache, surmounted by quaffed hair, recurs not just once in each self-portrait but sometimes several times over, reflected in a mirror or series of mirrors that multiply the image, which is often imprisoned in a geometric setting. These brutally candid self-portraits, carried out in predominantly dark colours, pose the questions: who am I? where do I come from? Where am I going? No answer comes.
Léon Spilliaert – From the Depths of the Soul is published at Ludion.