Vertigo, Magic Staircase (1908) by Leon Spilliaert

Vertigo, Magic Staircase - Spilliaert, Leon - 1908

Artwork Information

TitleVertigo, Magic Staircase
ArtistLeon Spilliaert
Date1908
MediumWash, Indian ink, watercolor and Crayon
Dimensions64 x 48 cm
Current LocationMusee des Beaux-Arts, Ostend

About Vertigo, Magic Staircase

The Belgian artist Léon Spilliaert is well known for his eerie and enigmatic works, which explore a grey area between reality and dream. Spanning a variety of mediums ranging from painting to printmaking, the artist’s works find beauty in the darkness. The intense blue-green tones often become almost abstract in their weird intensity. Sum from this period include the dazzling watercolour self-portrait; Two at the Window and Beach Landscape, where eerie emptiness abounds. During these works he concentrated on creating complex, profound self-portraits that further explored his own psyche.

Spilliaert’s most influential work from this period was ‘Vertigo’, also known as ‘Magic Staircase’. This can be seen as one of his most symbolic pieces as it reflects the inner struggles he was enduring during this time. The painting alone captures an internal descent into chaos and feeling oppressed by reality. Through its use of imagery and colours it conveys a sense of disorientation that reflects an individual’s grappling with contemporary life.

In contrast to Spilliaert’s confusion is Norwegian painter Harald Sohlberg’s masterpiece, Fisherman’s Cottage (1907). This painting looks back to the rural landscapes of Norway’s past which were often depicted with a thick layer of nostalgia; Sohlberg placed importance on capturing natural beauty in its simplest form -free from human detachment or estrangement from nature itself. The enchanting light cascading in creates a beautiful paradox of joys.

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