While its doors remain closed, the Royal Academy of Arts still is able to take online visitors around this exhibition that is filled with fascination for nature but with a gothic feel about it.

Léon Spilliaert, Woman at the Shoreline, 1910. Indian ink, coloured pencil and pastel on paper, 49 x 60 cm. Private collection. Photo: © Cedric Verhelst.

Even when looking at this exhibition online in this virtual tour, you get a real sense of the gloom that hangs around a lot of Léon Spilliaert’s work. This isn’t purely down to the fact so many of his pieces on display here are colourless, but also due to the overall feeling you get from studying them – whether it is objects in an empty room or figures trying to protect themselves from the rain.

This isn’t to say that this exhibition on the artist isn’t fascinating but more of a case that it leaves you feeling extremely sombre. Yet in fairness, there are brief moments of exception – particularly when you examine Spilliaert’s works by the sea, revealing an artist who seemed to be at his happiest and most content by the water.

Pieces including ‘Girls in the Waves’ and ‘Storm at Sea’, while contrasting in styles, show vividly the drama and life that the artist was able to give through his work but chose to focus consistently on a feeling of melancholy.

The entire exhibition is elegantly presented with plenty of light that lacks in the works themselves in an attempt to bring some positivity that is lacking elsewhere. Yet there are times when it feels as though the sections become slightly muddled in intent with the Twilight section feeling particularly so, with pieces with regards to the artist’s feelings of loneliness not quite fitting in with what feels should have been more strongly about the pieces he created about insomnia.

Yet, there is no denying his ongoing fascination with nature, with pieces in the early rooms such as ‘Landscape with Slender Trees’ that show delicacy and care that he put into his work consistently and really draw the viewer in. The way in which he was able to mix different styles together or experiment with the way in which he worked is also fascinating when you contrast this piece with the bolder and confident style of ‘Tree Behind a Wall’.

Overall, it is a fascinating if sombre exhibition of a rather introverted artist whose talent you feel could have expanded further had his outlook on life and art been slightly different.

By Emma Clarendon

The Royal Academy of Arts Léon Spilliaert exhibition is available to view via Youtube now. When the Royal Academy reopens, the exhibition will be available to view in person until the 20th September.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐


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