Léon Spilliaert, Autoportrait

Through an intimate focus, the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium offer a unique insight into some twenty of Léon Spilliaert's early works. A great opportunity to get inside the skin and mind of this tormented Belgian symbolist. A carefully curated selection of works on paper illustrate the existential crisis experienced by the young Léon Spilliaert.

In 2022, the King Baudouin Foundation unveiled an authentic treasure: three volumes of a compilation of writings for theatre written by Maurice Maeterlinck until 1901. Recently acquired through a fund managed by the King Baudouin Foundation, the volumes, soberly entitled Théâtre, were illustrated by the very young Léon Spilliaert in 1902 and 1903. At the age of 21, he illustrates hundreds of pages, titles, and vignettes with drawings in the margins, and sometimes even graphic interpretations of Maeterlinck's world, covering the texts. The materials used, such as Indian ink, pencil and watercolour, blend perfectly with the heightened sensitivity of Maurice Maeterlinck's world.

Because of their cultural-historical and artistic significance, the books have received the status of Masterpiece of the Flemish Community. The King Baudouin Foundation entrusted them to the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, and more specifically to the Fin-de-Siècle Museum, where they have been on display since December 2022.

This acquisition has been the starting point for the curation of the works constituting "Léon Spilliaert. The early years", which places Spilliaert's illustrations for 'Théâtre' in context.

The young artist was already showing glimpses of the subjects and drawings he would later exploit in larger formats. Despite his young age, he showed remarkable maturity and although he was constantly plagued by self-doubt, he unfolded his talent in art in an entirely unique way, inspired by literature and philosophy.

Curator Sarah Van Ooteghem, curator of modern art on paper (19th-21st century), has selected 20 drawings produced between 1901 and 1910 from the RMFAB's own collection, as well as 3 prints (one of which comes from the KBR). During this period, the young artist was in existential search. After brief stays in Brussels and Paris, he returns to his familiar Ostend. The restlessness and symbolic layering of his earliest works gives way to a deep experience of the here and now, depicted in interiors and seascapes.


Curator: Sarah VAN OOTEGHEM
Sarah Van Ooteghem joins the team of the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium in 2022 as curator of modern art on paper (19th-21st century). She previously worked as assistant curator at the Fondation Custodia/Frits Lugt Collection in Paris and at the Print Room of the Royal Library of Belgium. As a specialist in works of art on paper, she already contributed to several RMFAB publications.


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