Léon Spilliaert’s Nocturnal Visions

Léon Spilliaert, “Woman at the Shoreline” (1910), Indian ink, colored pencil and pastel on paper, 49 x 60 cm (Private collection, photo © Cedric Verhelst)

By day, Ostend, the coastal city in Belgium that once served as a resort for the Belgian royal family, is bustling with activity, attracting tourists from nearby Brussels and across the English Channel from Dover. At night, however, the beaches and promenade are empty and the remote sea seems to stretch out infinitely.

In the work on paper “Seascape Seen from Mariakerke” (1909) by Ostend painter Léon Spilliaert (1881-1946), thin washes of India ink and colored pencil form a vast nocturnal sea that consumes almost the entire space, darkening from silvery gray to deep purplish black. The horizontal flow of the brushstrokes evokes softly undulating waves. A fine white line stretching across the page articulates a distant horizon; above, a veil of clouds gathers in the narrow strip of sky.

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