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Royal Academy of Arts

19th Feb 2020

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Presenting the first major exhibition of Belgian artist Léon Spilliaert (1882-1946) in the UK, the Royal Academy of Arts has drawn over 80 works, from both public and private collections across Belgium, the UK, France and the US, to exhibit an incredibly rare and vast collection. Known for using oil paint, Indian ink wash, Conte crayon, water colour, pastel, chalk, pencil and pen on paper or cardboard and combining the various materials in his works, this exhibition focuses on his incredible works produced on paper to evoke a feeling of mystery and melancholy.

Spilliaert’s works largely span self-portraits, which were particularly significant as his life-long struggles with insomnia and chronic pain, as well as an existential angst, are vividly captured through these paintings. As the academy notes, these visionary self-portraits ‘reveal his preoccupation with his identity as an artist.’ His seaside surroundings and individuals that played an important role in his life, such as his wife, were also constant sources of inspiration for Spilliaert throughout many of his pieces. He was captivated and fascinated by nature, which prompted him to drift back to his hometown of Ostend throughout various stages of his life where he found constant sources of inspiration.

Although Spilliaert’s work is often associated with key figures of Belgian Symbolism, he has his own individual style which not only distinguishes him as an artist, but which also shows how he left an indelible mark on 20th century art in Belgium.

A man whose history is as significant as the pieces of work he produced, particularly in understanding the works of art themselves, Léon Spilliaert will be remembered as an artist who ‘wrestled with visual explorations of the self at the turn of the twentieth century.’

Open to the public as of February 23rd and running until the 25th May 2020, the Royal Academy of Arts’ exhibition on Spilliaert showcases the narrative of him both as an artist and individual remarkably, and as the first exhibition outside of Belgium which presents a rare collection of his works in one space, there’s no reason to miss it.

For over 250 years, the Royal Academy of Arts has championed artists around the world and continues to push the boundaries in introducing the UK audience to new works and ideas. 

Image Credits:

First Image: The Shipwrecked, 1926. Watercolour, gouache, Indian ink and pen on paper, 54.2 x 75.3 cm. Private collection.  Photo: Luc Schrobiltgen

Second Image: Democracy in Action, 1908. Coloured crayon, watercolour, ink and wash on paper, 41.8 x 51.9 cm. Private collection.  Photo: Christie's Images / Bridgeman Images

Third Image: Dike at night. Reflected lights, 1908. Indian ink wash, pen and coloured pencil on paper, 48 x 39.4 cm. Musée D'Orsay. Photo: © Musée d'Orsay, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt

Fourth Image: A Gust of Wind, 1904. Indian ink wash, brush, watercolour and gouache on paper, 51 x 41 cm. Mu.ZEE © - Art in Flanders vzw. Photo: Hugo Maertens

Fifth Image: Self-portrait, 1907. Gouache, watercolour and coloured pencil on paper, 52.7 x 37.8 cm. Metropolitan Museum of Art © 2019. Image copyright The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Art Resource/Scala, Florence

Sixth Image: Leon Spilliaert, The Absinthe Drinker, 1907.  Indian ink, gouache, watercolour and coloured chalk on paper, 105 x 77 cm. Collection King Baudouin Foundation, entrusted to the Fine Arts Museum of Ghent, Belgium, © Studio Philippe de Formanoir