Musée d'Orsay: Léon Spilliaert (1881-1946). Light and solitude

Léon Spilliaert (1881-1946). Light and solitude

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Ostend spaces, a dizzying sense of infinity

Léon SpilliaertNightscape. Dune and Raging Sea© Bibliothèque royale
Ostend is one of the main characters in Spilliaert’s work. The suggestive power and drama of his art is partly inspired by his home town. Long solitary walks along the shore led him to produce dark ink-wash seascapes with high horizon lines accentuating the vastness of the sea, which reflect his tortured soul.

Spilliaert was also interested in the contrast between the sea and the town which characterized Ostend. The humble fishing village had become a fashionable seaside resort. The linear architecture of the buildings initiated by King Leopold II—the Kursaal casino, the seawall-promenade, and the Royal Galleries—marked the appearance of straight lines in the artist’s work as he stripped composition and form back to basics. This purely geometric or even minimalist motif accentuates the pervasive atmosphere of solitude and anguish that mirrors his own experiences. At night, the dark hulking mass of buildings softened by dim light from lampposts blurs all reference points and induces a dizzying sense of infinity.

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