Deep waters ...

Léon Spilliaert

Léon Spilliaert maintained a complex and intimate relationship with the sea. She was his closest soulmate. Like a mirror, she reflected his emotions and desires. A parallel with the psycho-emotional life of the artist is unmistakable. Beneath the quiet, bashful surface lurks a special and turbulent world with its own residents and fantasies.

Léon Spilliaert - "The drowning" (1904)

While the surface gives the appearance of peace and calm, the waters stir in the depths. Here danger resides, in the form of a shadowy female creature. She appears unexpectedly, grabs the man where he is at his weakest and drags him down into the depths. From afar one can only watch. His comrades cannot see what is happening underwater. The man's most precious possession becomes his downfall.

Spilliaert depicts a fear and reality of many. Heavy writhing lines, trembling contours and sombre colours create a strong expressiveness. The gesticulating movements are somewhat comical, but therefore all the more desperate. The fear of death can be read from the man's face. It is a face that expresses an existential drama.

The resemblance to The Scream by Edvard Munch from 1893 is striking. Spilliaert was familiar with the work of the Norwegian artist thanks to French magazines that he read avidly. From 1895 they issued engravings of “The Scream”. The design of these prints co-determined the visual language Spilliaert would later employ.