TV works

James Ensor

James Ensor (1860-1949) was the son of an engineer of English origin and a woman from Ostend who kept a shop with souvenirs, curiosities, shells and carnival masks – attributes that often appear in Ensor’s paintings. After his studies at the academy in Brussels (1877-1880), Ensor returned to his parental home in Ostend and set up a studio looking out over the Vlaanderenstraat and the sea. This is where the works from his so-called ‘dark period’ were created. Ensor drew and painted subjects from his immediate surroundings: the sea, views of neighbouring roofs, portraits, interiors of middle-class homes. In 1883, he co-founded the Brussels art society, ‘Les XX’.

The years from 1885 to 1887 are considered a transitional phase, in which he started to make etchings. During the ‘light period’ that followed, Ensor reached the height of his artistic capabilities, with naturalism and impressionism making way for totally subjective works. His work often shows a conflict situation between the artist and his surroundings, not uncommonly conveying a feeling of being misunderstood. And indeed, even Les XX refused Ensor’s works for their 1889 and 1890 exhibitions.

Although Ensor’s creativity diminished, certainly after 1900, his fame steadily increased. In the first half of the 20th century, countless retrospective exhibitions were devoted to Ensor in Brussels, Paris, Hannover, London and so on. His work keeps attracting increasing international interest and can be seen from New York to Japan. The Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp owns the most extensive collection of Ensor works. James Ensor holds a unique position in Belgian art, both in terms of strong personal themes and innovative execution. In this regard, he anticipated fauvism and expressionism. [Els Desmedt]