Léon Spilliaert’s stern vision at Musée d’Orsay and Aubrey Beardsley’s naughty drawings

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“Sea at low tide”, 1909, lavis Indian ink, watercolor and color pencil on paper, private collection © reserved rights

How does the city you live in, influence your art and in this case, how did Ostend, the Belgian beach and harbor on the North Sea, influence Léon Spilliaert‘s moods. The three room exhibition on the Flemish artist at Musée d’Orsay is a little jewel. His use of Indian ink and pastel gras on paper is astonishing and the way he introduces Geometric Abstraction in his landscapes is particularly attractive. Spilliaert (1881-1946) is rarely exhibited and the subtitle of the show: “Light and Solitude” could make the visitor fear for a sad show with these 90 works from 1900 to 1919. It is the reverse. The passionate quest of the artist to represent the dark elements of life, becomes fascinating and intense and some paintings are also reminiscent of Edvard Munch.

“All alone”, 1909, lavis Indian ink, pastel gras on paper museum Dhondt-Dhaenens, Deurle, Belgium, Photo, Guy Braeckman (AD/ART) © SABAM Belgium 2016

The two most striking works for me are probably, “Sea at Low tide”, an abstract watercolor and ink lavis and “All alone”, the portrait of a young girl with red hair in an empty room with an overwhelming striped wooden floor painted at 28. Space and loneliness are apparent everywhere and a self-portrait lent by the Metropolitan Museum represents him in full dark spirits among many more self-portraits. He indulges in painting individual shadows of walkers and never depicts the social life in Ostend, which was one of the favorite resorts under King Leopold II.

“Woman by the water”, 1910, Indian ink, color pencil and pastel on paper, private collection © Cedric Verhelst

Instead, he goes for empty beaches and wind swept landscapes which are typical of this northern harbor. There is a harshness due to the climate that you find in his paintings and his desincarnated, ghostlike characters add to the drama. He was very literary, worked with publisher Edmond Deman when he was young, and read Maurice Maeterlinck and Emile Verhaeren’s poems, whose books he would illustrate in 1903. But also Edgar Allan Poe and Nietsche and mystics like St Teresa of Avila.

“October evening”, 1912, Indian ink, color pencil, craie de couleur and pastel on cardboard, Private Collection © reserved rights

He will spend some time in Brussels in 1917,  when his daughter is born, and return to Ostend where he rented a studio on the harbor. When finally returning toBrussels he 1935, he discovers the attraction of the forest and the theme of trees which he concentrates on. A few night scenes with reflections of light and the moon are almost abstract and the representation of a moving woman in “October evening” is very unusual. It is considered as a work influenced by futurism.

Aubrey Beardsley, “Lysistrata Shielding her Coynte”, end 1895 first semester 1896,
London, Victoria and Albert Museum, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

In the same galleries, an exhibition of Aubrey Beardsley (1872-1898),  includes a beautiful portrait of the artist by Jacques Emile Blanche, his first major commission to illustrate “Le Morte Darthur”and his Japanese influences drawings which are so typical of his style as well as Oscar Wilde’s Salomé illustrated in 1894.  The exhibition ends with the illustrations based on  Aristophane’s Lysistrata with women’s revolt and the (very erotic) reversal of gender roles. Beardsley died at 25 having established a unique style to this day.

Frederick Henry Evans, Aubrey Beardsley, 1894, platinum print, Photo Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington

Both exhibitions ntil January 10, 2021, Musée d’Orsay, Booking is mandatory

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2 Comments on “Léon Spilliaert’s stern vision at Musée d’Orsay and Aubrey Beardsley’s naughty drawings”

  1. Did Spilliaert really sire a daughter at 86?
    So much for if jeunesse savait, si vieillese pouvait…
    Bests Jon R

  2. Dear Laure
    Thank you for sending this.
    Spillaert’s work is so atmospheric.
    So so missing Paris and so your newsletters are a lovely connection to the city.

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