Lot 324
  • 324

James Ensor

bidding is closed


  • James Ensor
  • signed Ensor (lower right); signed Ensor on the reverse
  • oil on canvas


Fernand C. Graindorge, Liège
Acquired from the above by the family of the present owner


Brussels, Galerie Georges Giroux, Exposition Hommage à James Ensor, 1945, no. 109


Xavier Tricot, James Ensor, Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, 1902-1941, Antwerp, 1992, vol. II, no. 702, illustrated p. 617

Catalogue Note

This vibrant still life encapsulates a blend of traditional and fantasy that is symptomatic of the complex and divided personality of the artist. For James Ensor, an irreverent disregard for convention was second nature; whilst at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, he was the anarchist student who parodied conservative teachings. Yet this work exemplifies a sympathy with the classical still lives of the Flemish Old Masters, particularly in a fascination with rendering of light that was such a central preoccupation of artists such as Pieter Claesz and Jan Davidsz de Heem. Ensor's enthusiasm for 'light that tumbles in like a child' (Robert Hoozee, 'Ensor and his Environment' in James Ensor 1860-1949, Theatre of Masks (exhibition catalogue), Barbican Art Gallery, London, 1997, p. 25) is exemplified by the atmosphere of airy luminosity of his work, and the transparent glass bottles help evoke the limpid quality of Dutch light.

The masks that surround this fresh and colourful still-life permeated James Ensor's life and art. Masks from the Far East were sold in his mother's shop for the annual Ostend festival, and the theme of carnival allowed the artist to channel his vitriolic wit into gloriously macabre art. Ensor was a political radical who was disgusted by the corruption of bourgeois society, and in his art masks took on a symbolic role, suggesting a world of anarchic freedom, a foil to the stultifying conventions of Belgian society. As the artist commented, 'Hounded by those on my trail, I joyfully took refuge in the solitary land of fools where the mask, with its violence, its brightness and brilliance, reigns supreme. The mask meant to me: freshness of colour, extravagant decoration, wild generous gestures, strident expressions, exquisite turbulence' (quoted in Carol Brown, 'Introduction' in James Ensor 1860-1949, Theatre of Masks (exhibition catalogue), Barbican Art Gallery, London, 1997, p. 12).