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Léon Spilliaert (1881-1946)
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Léon Spilliaert (1881-1946)

Fillettes devant la vague

Léon Spilliaert (1881-1946)
Fillettes devant la vague
signed and dated 'L.Spilliaert Dec 08' (lower left)
coloured pencil, watercolour, brush and ink and wash on paper
25½ x 19 5/8 in. (64.8 x 50 cm.)
Executed 1908
E. Haeberli, Brussels, by 1970.
Maurice Keielman, Brussels.
Mr and Mrs Leiser, Antwerp, by whom acquired from the above.
Galerie Ronny Van de Velde, Antwerp, by whom acquired from the above.
Acquired from the above by the present owner circa 1999.
Exh. cat., Léon Spilliaert 1881-1946, Galeries Nationales du Grand-Palais, Paris, 1981 (illustrated p. 86).
F.-C. Legrand, Léon Spilliaert, Brussels, 1981, no. 56 (illustrated p. 191).
A. Adriaens-Pannier, Spilliaert, la regard de l'âme, Gent, 2006, p. 264 (illustrated).
Antwerp, Guillaume Campo, October - November 1965, no. 24.
Brussels, Musée des Beaux-Arts d'Ixelles, 1967, no. 22.
Paris, Musée de l'Orangerie, L'art flamand d'Ensor à Permeke, February - April 1970, no. 197.
Brussels, Musée Royal des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Hommage à Léon Spilliaert, April - June 1972.
New York, Cultural Center, Painters of the Mind's Eye: Belgian Symbolists and Surrealists, 1974.
Helsinki, Kluuvin Galleria, Léon Spiliaert, November 1975.
Washington D.C., The Phillips Collection, Léon Spilliaert: Symbol and Expression in 20th Century Belgian Art, April - June 1980, no. 18 (illustrated p. 58).
Lisbon, Galeria de Exposições Temporárias da Fundaçáo Calouste Gulbenkian, Exposiçáo Léon Spilliaert, October - November 1984, no. 19 (illustrated).
Antwerp, Campo & Campo, 100 Jaar Campo, February - March 1997.
Antwerp, Ronny Van De Velde, Léon Spilliaert, of de schoonheid van een wijs hart, November 1998 - January 1999, no. 47.
Athens, Frissiras Museum, From Felicien Rops to Jan Fabre: a century of Belgian painting, March - June 2004 (illustrated p. 78).
Tokyo, Bunkamura Museum of Art, Le symbolisme en Belgique: le réel en abîme, 2005, no. 92a; this exhibition later travelled to Onomichi, City Museum of Art; Kagoshima, City Museum of Art; Fukui, Fine Arts Museum and Nagasaki, Prefectural Art Museum.
Brussels, Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Léon Spilliaert: a free spirit, September 2006 - February 2007.
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Giovanna Bertazzoni
Giovanna Bertazzoni

Lot Essay

Executed in 1908, Fillettes devant la vague plunges the viewer into the world of Léon Spilliaert. A remarkable artist who forged his own unique path against the backdrop of Symbolism and the growing interest in Expressionism that took such hold of the avant garde in his native Belgium, Spilliaert created pictures that are profoundly poetic and atmospheric, and which would come to influence the Surrealism that would later develop there. Fillettes devant la vague is an intensely stylised image: the waves that undulate across the entirety of the picture surface lend the work an abstract quality; this results in a stark contrast between the progression of light and dark waves and the figures of the girls, heightening their sense of frailty. They have been rendered in a bluish tone that expresses their anxiety and discomfort at being perched on their tiny rock, increasingly isolated by the coming tide. That glimmer of colour throws them into dramatic relief against the rigorous palette of the background, the manner of depiction thus perfectly chiming with the subject itself.

Spilliaert's pictures were anchored in the real world, rather than the fantasy-Symbolism that flavoured the works of, say, Fernand Khnopff or Alfred Kubin, two artists to whom his oeuvre has sometimes been related. Yet Spilliaert used reality as a springboard for his mysterious, mystical investigations of the human condition. Here, the girls cling to one another for solace and support, surrounded as they are by the vastness of the sea; faced with the hostile elements, these fragile figures echo the famous paintings of Caspar David Friedrich. But the wonder that Spilliaert taps into is distinctly his own. This is at the core of the description given by the author François Jollivet-Castelot, who met Spilliaert the year after Fillettes devant la vague was made:

'In the presence of Spilliaert's magnificent works there is always a sensation of greatness, of profound thought. His art communicates, above all, the vertigo of the infinite. When he paints a seascape, it is as if, there in front of you, is the endless ocean with its mysterious waves, the monotonous beach and a sky which becomes one with the sea in the distance... Spilliaert's style remains untiringly grand, beautiful, simple - as large as nature herself' (Jollivet-Castelot, quoted in F. Edebau, 'Spilliaert: Artist of Ostend', pp. 13-18, 'Léon Spilliaert: Symbol and Expression in 20th Century Belgian Art, exh. cat., Washington, DC, 1980, p. 13).

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