Leon Spilliaert (1881-1946) was a Belgian painter from the sea coast town of Ostend. For a large part of his life he lived alone, painting himself and his surroundings. He rarely used oil, prefering pastel, aquarelle or gouache to depict powerfull inner and outer landscapes. His famous autoportraits have a metaphysical quality in them penetrating and exposing the anguish of the human soul, the melancholy of solitude. These qualities are also evident in his alienating landscapes of Ostend in which dark colors, light, reflection and shadow are combined to produce an effect of mysterious vast emptiness.
It is very interesting to examine what happens to his painting when, later on in his life, he moves away from Ostend to Brussels, marries and settles down. The inner turmoil and dark beauty of his earlier work give way to a period of "normality" exemplified in his later paintings in the somehow bland and frankly considerably less interesting depiction of trees from parks in Brussels. He has turned the page, switched on the light and moved away from the dangerous tightrope balancing act over the abysss to the tree trunk stability of a family life routine.
Art can only be fuelled by what is real. For Spilliaert, the choice of a normal family life brought calm, satisfaction and fullfillment as a person but as an artist the price to be paid was indeed very high.