Léon Spilliaert The early years

Focus exhibition


Léon Spilliaert, Autoportrait

In 2022, the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium received a unique edition of 'Théâtre' by Maurice Maeterlinck (1862-1949). The three volumes bring together some of his writings for theatre. No fewer than 348 original drawings by Ostend artist Léon Spilliaert (1881-1946) illustrate the whole. The work was acquired by the Eliane Vercaempt Fund managed by the King Baudouin Foundation. Because of their cultural-historical and artistic significance, the books have the status of Masterpiece of the Flemish Community.

This focus exhibition places Spilliaert's illustrations for 'Théâtre' in context. They are presented with a selection of the artist's early works from the collection of the Museum. Spilliaert was barely 21 years old when he drew the illustrations. They testify to a mature and highly personal translation of Maeterlinck's uncanny theatrical world and point ahead to subjects and representations of drawings he would create in the following years.

Léon Spilliaert unfolded his talent in art in an entirely unique way. Even as a teenager, he was drawn to the 'paper world'. Inspired by literature and philosophy, he depicts the interpretation of his reading in drawings.

A brief stint at the Bruges academy in late 1899 does not prevent him from going public with his work. He first does so in the closed circles of art and book lovers, such as the well-known Brussels publisher and bookseller Edmond Deman and writer Emile Verhaeren.

In the first decade of the 20th century, the period highlighted in this focus exhibition, the young artist is 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.

Practical informations


Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium
Rue de la Régence / Regentschapsstraat 3
1000 Brussels
Mail  / +32 (0)2 508 32 11


Tuesday- Friday: 10:00 - 17:00
Weekends: 11:00 - 18:00

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On 24/12 and 31/12 the museums close at 14:00


+ 1 January | 1 May | 1 & 11 November | 25 December
+ 15 June



Admission with a ticket for the permanent collection

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