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James Ensor (1860-1949) - Christ's Entry Into Brussels in 1889


James Ensor - Musiciens terribles

1891. Oil on canvas, 16 x 21 cm.
Patrick Derom Gallery, Brussels.

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James Sidney Edouard, Baron Ensor (13 April 1860 – 19 November 1949) was a Belgian painter and printmaker, an important influence on expressionism and surrealism who lived in Ostend for almost his entire life. He was associated with the artistic group Les XX.

Entrada de Cristo en Bruselas en 1889 de James Ensor

Christ's Entry Into Brussels in 1889. Detail: Crowd with masks.
1889 James Ensor Old woman with the masks
1899 James Ensor Ensor with the masks or Ensor surrounded by masks
1890 James Ensor Intrigue
1891 James Ensor Good Judges
1892 James Ensor Duel of masks
1892 James Ensor Portrait of Gustave Culus or the Just Judge
1880 James Ensor Après l'orage

1879 James Ensor Judith si Holopherne
1880 James Ensor The Two Mills
1883 James Ensor Ensor with the flowered hat

We begin our series of famous painters that marked the way we see and experience painting today, with the works of James Sidney Edouard Ensor (1860-1949), one of my favourites expressionists. James Ensor was a Flemish-Belgian painter and printmaker, an important influence on expressionism and surrealism, who lived in Ostend for almost his entire life. He began his artistic career as a portrait painter but soon became involved with the avant-garde group Les XX (the Twenty), whose goal was to promote new artistic developments throughout Europe.
James Ensor is considered to be an innovator in 19th century art. Although he stood apart from other artists of his time, he significantly influenced such 20th century artists as Paul Klee, Emil Nolde, George Grosz, Alfred Kubin, Wols, Felix Nussbaum,  and other expressionist and surrealist painters of the 20th century.
James Ensor was a socially engaged and self-critical artist involved with the social and moral issues of his times and with contemporary debates on the very nature of

James Ensor The Girl with Masks


Influencing Contemporary Art, the Timelessness of James Ensor's Oeuvre

Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst
+ 32 (0)9 240 76 01
Museum of Fine Arts
Fernand Scribedreef 1
+ 32 (0)9 240 07 00
James Ensor
Hareng Saur: Ensor and contemporary art

October 31, 2010-February 27, 2011

S.M.A.K. and Museum of Fine Art in Ghent are joining forces to programme Hareng Saur: Ensor and contemporary art.
This exhibition is one of a series of events in Belgium and abroad to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the birth of James Ensor (1860-1949). It takes a distinctly different approach by associating Ensor with the work of contemporary artists.
James Ensor can without hesitation be considered one of the most pioneering artists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Recent retrospectives in Paris and New York have confirmed his international importance, but this is by no means new. The international avant-garde already acknowledged Ensor as a pioneer of modern art during his lifetime, witness the visits to his studio in Ostend made by such figures as Wassily Kandinsky, Emil Nolde, Max Pechstein and others.
Hareng Saur: Ensor and contemporary art takes a new step in the approach to Ensor’s oeuvre. The exhibition shows that Ensor has retained his topicality even on today’s art scene. He is taken out of his historical context and approached decisively as a timeless artist whose themes and technique are inseparably linked to the practices of many contemporary artists.
Even at the start of the 21st century, Ensor’s subjects and points of view remain resoundingly up to date. Such subjects as the mask and the grotesque, social critique, the self-portrait, the identification with Christ, the masses, satire and death have after all lost none of their relevance in contemporary visual art. The exhibition makes unexpected links and demonstrates that in his visionary oeuvre Ensor pursued a goal that connects him to numerous contemporary artists.
The title of the exhibition comes from Ensor’s painting Squelettes se disputant un hareng saur (Skeletons fighting over a pickled herring). The title is an example of Ensor’s unique wordplay (‘(h)ar-eng saur’ = ‘art Ensor’), illustrates his very personal humour and at the same time shows that his work contained several layers.
The title also contains a concealed reference to the fact that Ensor’s work led to controversy among critics during his lifetime. At the start of the 21st century his oeuvre provides just as much reason for discussion of its meaning and influence. Hareng Saur: Ensor and contemporary art contributes to a better understanding of his place in the development of present-day art by showing his work alongside that of other artists in a clear, open and vivid exhibition.
In addition to an extensive selection of Ensor’s work (paintings, drawings and prints), the exhibition also includes contemporary kindred spirits and counterparts in the genres of painting, sculpture, video, installation, performance, drawing, etc
Ensor’s visual world is thereby linked to those of Eija-Liisa Ahtila, Francis Alÿs, Huma Bhabha, Jake & Dinos Chapman, George Condo, Thierry De Cordier, Marlene Dumas, Thomas Hirschhorn, Tomasz Kowalski, Jonathan Meese, Bruce Nauman, Ugo Rondinone, Dana Schutz, Cindy Sherman, Raymond Pettibon, Thomas Schütte, Andy Warhol, Thomas Zipp and others.
Each of these works is shown in a context where a limited number of works by Ensor is shown as a point of departure. This gives rise to an interaction in which connections are made, confrontations entered into and nuances distinguished.
Hareng Saur: Ensor and contemporary art is being shown simultaneously in S.M.A.K. and the Museum of Fine Art in Ghent. The organisation of the project is under the joint supervision of the directors of the two museums, Robert Hoozee and Philippe Van Cauteren; the exhibition is curated by Johan De Smet and Ronald Van de Sompel.

The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue that takes an in-depth look at the two angles: contemporary art from an Ensor perspective and vice versa. -

Gemeentemuseum Den Haag
Stadhouderslaan 41
+ 31-(0)70-3381111
The Hague
James Ensor A visionary universe
March 12-June 13, 2011

The powerful oeuvre of Belgian Expressionist James Ensor (1860-1949) is a masquerade: a crazy procession of grotesque figures, masked faces, daubed female visages, skeletons and giant carnival puppets, all painted in a mixture of garish and pastel colors. His paintings go from one extreme to another. Having initially won acclaim for sophisticated, Realist depictions of interiors and seaside views, the artist changed direction completely becoming absorbed in the world of imagination.
Ensor is renowned for versatile and sensitive use of color, freedom of painting technique, unbridled imagination, and a mocking view of human nature. Born and brought up in Ostend, he was the son of a middle-class family with a Belgian mother and English father. Gemeentemuseum Den Haag is hosting a major retrospective in honor of Ensor: a penetrating insight into a visionary universe.
In his career, Ensor attracted attention. Abandoning conventional themes and exploring new subjects, he was a true pioneer and an artistic innovator. The modernism of his work led to difficulties in its reception and even made it hard to exhibit. To solve this problem, Ensor joined forces with other like-minded Belgian artists and in 1884 established an association called Les XX (The Twenty) to organise their own group exhibitions. Soon after the First World War, however, Ensor was an accepted part of the modern art canon and today regarded as a leading Expressionist artist, ranking in European terms alongside Edvard Munch, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Emil Nolde and Oskar Kokoschka. Like René Magritte and Paul Delvaux, he is a top international name in the field of classic modern Belgian art.
He was first and foremost an exceptional colorist, employing daring contrasts and tonalities. He used light in his paintings as an emotional and expressive element. In his grotesque paintings, he used the mask as an Expressionist means to reveal the true nature of humanity: both farcical and vicious. Ensor also had extraordinary graphic talents, manifested in drawings and etchings also on show in this exhibition. There is a contrast between the thickly daubed, color-based paintings and the meticulously detailed works on paper, with scenes of densely massed crowds.
The exhibition focuses on Ensor’s links with the Netherlands. He visited the country early in his career drawing inspiration from Dutch Old Master paintings. At that time, he was frequently compared to Rembrandt and paintings like The Oyster-Eater (1882) display similarities with Dutch 17th-century still lifes. Hi’s work found ready appreciation in the Netherlands and was exhibited and collected here. He was close to Jan Toorop at a time when both artists were achieving crucial advances in their work.
The exhibition is a collaboration with Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten in Antwerp with the assistance of Spaarnestad Photo Collection (part of National Archives of the Netherlands).
The exhibition is accompanied by an illustrated Dutch-language book with contributions from Saskia de Bodt, Herwig Todts and Doede Hardeman, published by Ludion at € 24.90 (softcover) and € 34.90 (hardcover).
James Ensor, Old Woman with Masks (Theatre of Masks), 1889, oil on canvas, 54 x 47.5 cm, Museum of Fine Arts, Ghent.
James Ensor, The Oyster Eater, 1882, oil on canvas, 207 x 150.5 cm, Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp.

James Ensor, Skeleton Looking at Chinoiseries, 1885 and c. 1888-1890, oil on canvas, 100 x 60 cm, Museum of Fine Arts, Ghent.

Centre for Fine Arts
ING Cultural Centre
10, rue Royale Koningsstraat
+ 02 507 82 00
Ensor revealed
October 7, 2010-February 13, 2011
Ensor revealed allows the visitor to take a look at the artist's studio and uses three themes to explain his way of thinking and his artistic evolution. First, the exhibition shows that Ensor was one of the most important 19th century European realist painters.
His drawings, studies, still lifes, portraits and modern genre scenes show Ensor seeking to match his contemporaries and historic role models. The exhibition also focuses on the most original and innovative part of Ensor's work: his famous grotesque representations and mask scenes.
Following the 150th anniversary of Belgian artist James Ensor, ING Belgium, the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp (KMSKA) and the Centre for Fine Arts in Brussels (BOZAR) joined forces to shed new light on the work of the Ostend painter.
Ensor revealed puts together drawings and paintings to clarify the thinking of the strong-willed artist and the genesis of his masterpieces.
The exhibition is based on a selection of the internationally renowned KMSKA Ensor collection. The exhibition at the ING Cultural Centre is complemented by about 30 paintings and drawings on loan from local and international public and private owners. A total of 60 paintings, 150 drawings and many more documents have been gathered.
The exhibition includes some treasures that have rarely been shown: drawings, light-sensitive and vulnerable objects that usually remain safely tucked away in the drawers of a picture room.
These drawings take visitors to the environment of the artist, his attic workshop in Ostend, which has remained virtually unknown. These drawings are often the key to Ensor's well-known works.
In connection with the Ensor revealed exhibition, ING Belgium has commissioned a film from the Gemsel production house entitled Ensor’s drawings, the work behind the brushstroke, explaining the relationship between his drawings and paintings.
ING is also supporting the production of a new hour-long documentary: Ensortilège (The Magic of Ensor) covering all of James Ensor’s work and produced by Gemsel Productions, Brussels and Abacaris Films, Paris.
Herwig Todts, scientific officer at the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp (KMSKA) and eminent Ensor expert is the exhibition's curator.
Complementing the Ensor exhibition in the ING Cultural Centre, Place Royale, the Centre for Fine Arts, Brussels, presents another facet of the artist, on the walls of its Henry Le Bœuf concert room with Ensor, a composer and writer — a display of autographs, publications, documents and photographs which reveals the depth and prodigious nature of a highly colourful personality.
KMSKA bought its first Ensor painting in 1902. One hundred years later, it has the most important Ensor collection in the world, with no less than 37 paintings, more than 500 drawings and hundreds of documents.
The museum has most Ensor paintings and drawings, including some of his best works like The Oyster Eater, Adam And Eve Expelled From Paradise, Skeletons Fighting Over A Hanged Man, The Astonishment Of The Mask Wouse, Hell Above, Hell Below, Hell All Around, and the well-known mask composition The Intrigue.
The collection isn't just of extraordinary quality; it also offers a complete overview of his body of work: almost all technical, stylistic and iconographic aspects of Ensor's art are represented.
James Ensor, Old Lady with Blue Shawl (The Artist's Grandmother), 1881, Oil on canvas, 74 x 59 cm, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten Antwerpen, © Lukas – Art in Flanders vzw.
James Ensor, Copy after Hokusai Manga Kakinomoto-no-Kisoujou: démon, 1885, Black crayon on paper, 225 x 176 mm, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten Antwerpen, © Sabam 2010.
James Ensor, Mitsche from various angles, 1880-84?, Black crayon on paper, 225 x 176 mm, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten Anterpen, © Sabam 2010.
James Ensor, Detail of the hands of Elisabeth Bas, 1880?, Black crayon on paper, 225 x 176 mm, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten Anterpen, © Sabam 2010.
James Ensor, Mitsche and a doll, 1880-84?, Black crayon on paper, 225 x 76 mm, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten Anterpen, © Sabam 2010.
James Ensor, The Oyster Eater, 1882, Oil on canvas, 207 x 150 cm, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten Anterpen, © Lukas – Art in Flanders vzw.

Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53 Street
New York
The Joan and Preston Robert Tisch Gallery, sixth floor
James Ensor
June 28-September 21, 2009
James Ensor is the first exhibition at an American institution to feature the full range of Ensor's media in over 30 years. Ensor (Belgian, 1860-1949) was a major figure in the Belgian avant-garde of the late 19th century and a precursor to the development of Expressionism in the early 20th. In both respects, he has influenced generations of later artists.
About 120 of Ensor’s paintings, drawings, and prints are included, most dating from the artist’s creative peak, 1880 to the mid-1890s. A number, including the first two drawings from his monumental Aureoles series of 1885-86, The Lively and Radiant: The Entry of Christ into Jerusalem and The Rising: Christ Shown to the People, have never been seen in the U.S.
Perhaps best known for evocative paintings of masks, in portraits and fictive dramas, Ensor’s wide-ranging oeuvre spans such traditional subject matter as still life, landscape, and religious symbolism to more singular visions, including fantastical scenes of skeletons and other startling figures, such as Skeletons Trying to Warm Themselves (1889) and Skeletons Fighting over a Pickled Herring (1891).
Ensor’s work also includes a wide range of styles and dimensions, from tiny prints of only a few inches to large-scale paintings and drawings. A restless experimenter with a variety of mediums and techniques including collage and hand-printed etching, Ensor revisited works completed years earlier, adding color and images that radically transformed originals.
The exhibition produces a picture of Ensor’s daring, experiential body of work, and clarifies his contribution to modern art, his innovative and allegorical use of light, his use of satire, his deep interest in carnival and performance, and his own self-fashioning and use of masking, travesty, and role-playing. The exhibition presents Ensor as a socially engaged and self-critical artist involved with issues of his times and contemporary debates on modernism.
James Sidney Edouard, Baron Ensor's father was English and his mother was Flemish. A poor student, he left school at the age of 15 to begin artistic training with two local painters. From 1877 to 1880, he studied at Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, where his classmates included Fernand Khnopff. He first exhibited his work in 1881. From 1880 until 1917, he had his studio in the attic of his parents' house. His only travels were three brief trips to Paris, London, and Holland.
During the late 1800s much of his work was rejected as scandalous, particularly Entry of Christ into Brussels (1888-89), but his paintings continued to be exhibited, and he gradually won acceptance and acclaim. In 1895 his painting The Lamp Boy (1880) was acquired by Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium in Brussels, and he had his first solo exhibition in Brussels. By 1920 he was the subject of major exhibitions; in 1929 he was named a Baron by King Albert, and was the subject of the Belgian composer Flor Alpaerts's James Ensor Suite; and in 1933 he was awarded the band of the Légion d'honneur. Even in the first decade of the 20th century, however, his production of new works was diminishing, and he increasingly concentrated on music — although he had no musical training, he was a gifted improviser on the harmonium, and spent much time performing for visitors.
Against the advice of friends, he remained in Ostend during World War II despite the risk of bombardment. In his old age he was an honored figure among Belgians, and his daily walk made him a familiar sight in Ostend. He died there after a short illness, on November 19, 1949.
While Ensor's early works, such as Russian Music (1881) and The Drunkards (1883), depict realistic scenes in a somber style, his palette subsequently brightened and he favored increasingly bizarre subject matter. Such paintings as The Scandalized Masks (1883) and Skeletons Fighting over a Hanged Man (1891) feature figures in grotesque masks inspired by the ones sold in his mother's gift shop for Ostend's annual Carnival. Subjects such as carnivals, masks, puppetry, skeletons, and fantastic allegories are dominant in Ensor's mature work. Ensor dressed skeletons up in his studio and arranged them in colorful, enigmatic tableaux on the canvas, and used masks as a theatrical aspect in his still lifes. Attracted by masks' plastic forms, bright colors, and potential for psychological impact, he created a format in which he could paint with complete freedom.
The four years between 1888 and 1892 mark a turning point in Ensor’s work. Ensor turned to religious themes, often the torments of Christ. Ensor interpreted religious themes as a personal disgust for the inhumanity of the world. In 1888 alone, he produced 45 etchings as well as his most ambitious painting, the immense The Entry of Christ into Brussels. In this composition, which elaborates a theme treated by Ensor in his drawing Les Aureoles du Christ of 1885, a vast carnival mob in grotesque masks advances toward the viewer. Identifiable within the crowd are Belgian politicians, historical figures, and members of Ensor's family. Nearly lost amid the teeming throng is Christ on his donkey; although Ensor was an atheist, he identified with Christ as a victim of mockery. The piece, which measures 99-½ by 169-½ inches, was rejected by Les XX and was not publicly displayed until 1929. After its controversial export in the 1960s, the painting is now at the J. Paul Getty Museum and is on display at the Getty Center in Los Angeles, California. Also known as Christ's Entry into Brussels in 1889, it is considered "a forerunner of 20th-century Expressionism."
As Ensor achieved belated recognition in the final years of the 19th century, his style softened and he painted less. Critics have generally seen Ensor's last 50 years as a long period of decline. The aggressive sarcasm and scatology that had characterized his work since the mid-1880s was less evident in his few new compositions, and much of his output consisted of mild repetitions of earlier works. Significant works of Ensor's late period include The Artist's Mother in Death (1915), a subdued painting of his mother's deathbed with prominent medicine bottles in the foreground, and The Vile Vivisectors (1925), a vehement attack on those responsible for the use of animals in medical experimentation.
James Ensor is considered to be an innovator in 19th century art. Although he stood apart from other artists of his time, he significantly influenced such 20th century artists as Paul Klee, Emil Nolde, George Grosz, Alfred Kubin, Wols, Felix Nussbaum, and other expressionist and surrealist painters of the 20th century.
His works are in many public collections, notably the Modern Art Museum of the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium in Brussels, the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp, and the Museum voor Schone Kunsten in Ostend. Major works by Ensor are also in the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Musée d'Orsay, Paris, and the Wallraf-Richartz Museum in Cologne. A collection of his letters is held in the Contemporary Art Archives of the Royal Museums of Fine Arts in Brussels.
Ensor has been paid homage by contemporary painters and artists in other media: he is the subject of a song, Meet James Ensor, recorded in 1994 by the alternative rock duo They Might Be Giants. The 1996 Belgian movie Camping Cosmos was inspired by drawings of James Ensor, in particular Carnaval sur la plage (1887), La mort poursuivant le troupeau des humains (1896), and Le bal fantastique (1889). The film's director, Jan Bucquoy, is also the creator of a comic Le Bal du Rat mort inspired by Ensor.The yearly philanthropic "Bal du Rat Mort" (Dead Rat Ball) in Ostend continues a tradition begun by Ensor and his friends in 1898.
The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue edited by Anna Swinborne, Assistant Curator in the Department of Painting and Sculpture at MoMA. It includes essays by Anna Swinbourne; Susan M. Canning, Professor of Art History, College of New Rochelle, New York; Michel Draguet, Director, Musées royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels; Robert Hoozee, Director, Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Ghent; and Herwig Todts, Curator, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp; Laurence Madeline, Curator, Musée d’Orsay, Paris; and Jane Panetta, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Painting and Sculpture, The Museum of Modern Art. It is published by The Museum of Modern Art and is available at MoMA Stores and online at It is distributed to the trade through Distributed Art Publishers (D.A.P) in the United States and Canada, and Thames + Hudson outside North America. Hardcover: 208 pages, 165 color illustrations. $60.
James Ensor (Belgian, 1860-1949), The Strange Masks, 1892, Oil on canvas, 39-3/8 x 31-1/2", Musées royaux des Beaux Arts de Belgique, Brussels, Photo credit: Vincent Everarts Brussels, © 2009 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SABAM, Brussels.
James Ensor (Belgian, 1860-1949), The Oyster Eater, 1882, Oil on canvas, 81-1/2 x 59-1/16", Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp, © 2009 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SABAM, Brussels.
James Ensor (Belgian, 1860-1949), Skeleton Musicians. 1888, Black pencil and brown chalk on paper, mounted on panel, 8-1/4 x 6-5/16", Private collection, © 2009 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SABAM, Brussels.

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