(Leon Spilliaert, 1881-1946)
The tendency towards greater sobriety in form and colour is apparent in the oeuvre of Leon Spilliaert. This Ostend artist was something of an outsider in his generation, slightly lost between symbolism andexpressionism. He rarely used oils, preferring an immaterial substance (aquarelles, pastels, gouache) to express the spiritual content of his work. Influences of de Nabis, Manet and Japanese printing may be responsible for the spirit of synthesis which his works exude: forms reduced to simplicity, large areas of colour contained within closed contours.
Spilliaert the symbolist was indifferent to the usual pictorial subjects, preferring to withdraw into a spiritual visual language of his own. That is not to say that he closed his eyes to the everyday. Rather he would record a banal image drawn from daily life, but give it a surprising and intriguing setting. The pastel Alleen (Alone, 1909) is an example of this sort of metaphysical process. High up in an attic, a rather bored girl leans against the back of a chair. This skinny young girl with her thin, bright-blue stockinged legs and reddish hair hanging over her shoulders, could almost have stepped out of a work by Edvard Munch. The wooden floor draws the spectator's eye in her direction and seems to open the way to her lonely heart. But this monotony only serves to strengthen the oppressive solitude, just as in another work by Spilliaert the recurring rhythm of the lines of the coast and quays in Ostend at night intensifies the alienation. A dark dress hangs on a sagging washing line against the drab attic wall like an inauspicious omen. In this way, the climate of desolation and of waiting is augmented with indescribable feelings of fear and menace. The secret, unreal atmosphere is part of a world of inner experience, charged with psychological tensions and articulated in a strictly personal style. It is this sort of penetrating, individual approach that made Spilliaert one of [Belgium's] modern painters even before 1910 ...
- From Museum Dhondt-Dhaenens