The French used to go to Switzerland to ski and to check their bank accounts. Now they go for the exhibitions. Last week end saw a series of brilliant openings in Geneva, Lausanne, Montricher and Basel and the train from Paris was fun to ride as you met art curators and collectors, all eager to see the enlarged ArtGenève show which was attended by a variety of galleries including Magnum, Ratton-Ladrière, Templon and Thaddaeus Ropac. I personally loved the Léon Spilliaert exhibition at Fondation de l’Hermitage in Lausanne until May 29. This Belgian painter from Ostende is unknown to many people who have not seen his retrospective in 2020 at musée d’Orsay where I discovered his work. He is definitely worth the trip… And so is the Colette exhibition at Fondation Jan Michalski, a writer’s retreat in the country side. I did not get to the Wayne Thiebaud show at Fondation Beyeler but did visit the new museums of plateforme 10 by the Lausanne train station and sadly learned there about Thierry Barbier-Mueller‘s sudden death at 62 on January 24. His collection of chairs is displayed at Musée du Design mudac with a sound installation by Bob Wilson .
It was very interesting to visit the show in the charming and intimate “Hermitage” overlooking Lac Léman, with two artists friends who were bewildered by Spilliaert’s technique with ink, watercolor and color pencil. The painter, who never went to art school and only felt liberated to be an artist when he graduated from high school, has the most intriguing style and concentrates, in a very abstract way on the shores of Ostende and the North Sea. He never travelled much, except to Paris in 1904, in his twenties, where he met the poet Emile Verhaeren, who recommended him to galleries and artists. He spent his life moving back and forth from the seashore to Brussels where he lived for a while with his wife and daughter.
The first rooms are devoted to the sea in Ostende, which is both source of wealth and life for its population and threatening with its violence and strong winds. He portrays minute details of the lighthouse, the fishermen’s wives in the wind, lights at moonlight, or the Victorian colonnades of the Royal beach. There are a few boats but mostly abstract dunes and extraordinary indigo views of the sea and of the waves. When aesthetics become too powerful, a whimsical ink lavis of the lighthouse with little people running around brings us back to his talent and strength as a draughtsman.
His father was a perfumer with a hairdressing salon in the back, and there are a few paintings of his father’s shop and numerous bottles which looked like an artist’s studio. When you walk downstairs, you discover a series of self-portraits, views of his austere bedroom with bed and cupboard, which are more disturbing one than another and some very poetic drawings of trees. One of the curators who was guiding a group of collectors mentioned that he liked to make “portraits” of trees. And his series of winter scenes with snow is particularly successful.
A striking pastel is quietly hanging over a mantle piece in the upstairs living room next to a pretty portrait by Caillebotte. They are part of the important Hermitage collection. It is “Snow Landscape” painted in Ostende in 1905. Another surprise awaits us upstairs with “Young woman on a stool”, a woman seen from the back with an iridescent hallo and a very nordic style reminiscent of Munch or Hammershøi. It is considered as one of his masterpieces.
I hope to have convinced you that the visit to Fondation de l’Hermitage is an enchanted moment, where the quality of the Spilliaert show is part of the miraculous atmosphere. You can have lunch on the premises at l’Esquisse which is very pretty.
The show Léon Spillieaert with the North Sea is on until May 29, Fondation de l’Hermitage Lausanne.
Plateforme 10 with Photo Elysée, “Chair and You” at mudac until February 26, and Musée Cantonal des Beaux Arts de Lausanne, a beauty.
Colette at the Jan Michalski Foundation in Montricher (30 mns from Lausanne) is until April 4.
Share this Post