Léon Spilliaert (1881–1946) produced most of his work in his home town of Ostend, on the North Sea coast of Belgium. Largely self-taught—he only attended the Academy of Fine Arts in Bruges for a few months—he learned his craft through his friendship with the Brussels bibliophile, collector, and bookseller Edmond Deman. Shaped by his reading, and in particular by the works of Friedrich Nietzsche, Lautréamont, Edgar Allan Poe, Maurice Maeterlinck, and Émile Verhaeren, with whom he became firm friends, Spilliaert defies classification as an artist; he has affinities with Symbolism, but also with Expressionism, and sometimes even verges on abstraction.
Between 1900 and 1917, his work was dominated by a “gloomy and serious” note. Using ink, his favorite medium, exclusively on paper, he drew solitary ghostly figures, mask-like faces with crazed, wild eyes, and interiors and landscapes in which light emerges from darkness.
The exhibition focuses on Spilliaert’s intense and radical early creative years. It groups—chronologically and thematically—works which present variations on the artist’s recurring obsessions and preoccupations.