Moving from the Royal Academy’s “Gauguin and the Impressionists” exhibition to its concurrently running Léon Spilliaert show was like moving from the light into darkness. Nowhere in the latter was there anything remotely akin to the former show’s Plum Trees in Blossom by Pissarro (1894) or Flowers and Fruit by Matisse (1909); about the only plant life we encounter with Spilliaert is in his Hothouses I (1917), in which the giant vegetation looms over the viewer in huge black silhouettes, like terrifying Triffids marching at night. It is all about the night with Spilliaert.

Spilliaert (1881–1946) is very much honored as an artistic prophet in his own country of Belgium, but hardly...


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