Self-portrait with Blue Sketchbook


Léon Spilliaert
Ostend 1881 - Brussels 1946
watercolour on paper
50 x 38 cm
Inventory number 2697

Ostend-born Léon Spilliaert made his debut at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. It was an era of divergent tendencies in art, characterised by a variety of subject matter. Consequently it is very hard to subsume Spilliaert under any particular movement. If anything, his oeuvre is quite singular. Like the Impressionists, Spilliaert devoted much attention to light. At the same time, however, he used chiaroscuro techniques to induce a sense of mystery. In 1907, Spilliaert painted a number of self-portraits, in which he is reading or drawing in a room of his parental home. In Self-portrait with Blue Sketchbook, his figure occupies almost the entire canvas. The blue touches in his face and the sketchbook and the red in the side table add some vibrancy. The illumination on his forehead and hair helps accentuate the shadowy, dark-rimmed eyes.

Man in the mirror

Spilliaert's self-portraits are an attempt to penetrate into his own restless, feverish nature. In this example, his sharp gaze is directed straight at the viewer, who thus participates in his process of introspection. Or perhaps the artist is just looking at his own reflection in a mirror, which he is trying to capture in his sketchbook.

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