Bridge near Zandvoorde, 1930, aquarel on paper, 48 x 60 cm.
When we speak of Léon Spilliaert (Oostende, 1881 – Brussel, 1946), most people immediately think of his dark, grey-toned paintings and drawings. And with good reason. These vibrant, emotional-captivating works dominate his name and fame. But most people don't know that these dark, mysterious works were made only in his younger years. Not earlier than in his thirties, Léon Spilliaert changed his colour palette and started using fresh and vivid colours, as if he wanted to add more expression to his works. His later work Bridge near Zandvoorde (1930) is a good example of this shift.
Léon Spilliaert was an autodidact. As a student he started his education at the Academie, but he decided already is his first year to make up his own trail. In a way, Spilliaerts life was dominated by a certain loneliness, with or against his will. He was determined to follow his own path and because of this he couldn't be placed easily in a certain artist group or style. He accomplished his works by the use of different techniques, like Indian ink, chalk, aquarel, gouache and pastel on cardboard or paper. These materials and techniques enabled him to create mysterious works, with a mystical lightning. When he used for example pastel, he applied it in a way that it didn't fully cover the paper. It resulted in figures that vibrated.
Léon Spilliaert was originally from Ostend. And like Ensor and Permeke, Spilliaert had a special bond with the North sea. Spillaert suffered from insomnia and because of this, he adopted the habit to wander around in Ostend, near the sea. In his early years, Oostende became one of the most visited international seaside resorts. For the rich and beau-monde, like Leopold II and the aristocrats from Great Britain and Russia, Ostend was their favorite place to cool off and enjoy their sea. Spilliaert wasn't really appealed by their frivolous lifestyle, instead he was astonished by its melancholic aftermath; when the guests had left and the city was desolated again. Things he saw in his direct environment inspired him; the colours of the sea, people that were wondering over the quay, a fire tower, landscapes, sailboats in the harbor, a bridge in the surroundings of Ostend.
When we take a look at the work Bridge near Zandvoorde for example, we see a pretty colourful work, with canary yellow and flamy orange performing at their best. For the composition Spilliaert used an almost distorted perspective, as if he is standing on top of a building or looking downwards from the sky. These two aspects, colours and perspective, dominate the evocation of a certain mystical, nostalgic sphere.
Text: Lisa van Gerven