Lot 20
  • 20

James Ensor

1,500,000 - 2,000,000 USD
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  • James Ensor
  • Les Toits d'Ostende
  • Signed Ensor and dated 1885 (lower right)
  • Oil on canvas
  • 44 1/4 by 52 1/2 in.
  • 112 by 134.5 cm


François Franck, Antwerp (acquired by 1922)

By descent from the above


Brussels, Musée d'Art Moderne, Les XX, Quinzième Exposition, 1888, no. 11

Antwerp, Kunstvan Heden - L'Art Contemporain, 1905, no. 241

Rotterdam, Rotterdamsche Kunstkring, Tentoonstelling van werken van James Ensor, 1910, no. 5

Antwerp, Cercle Royal Aristique, Littéraire et Scientifique, Oeuvres de James Ensor, 1910, no. 5

Brussels, Troisième Salon de Printemps, 1911, no. 106

Antwerp, Kunstvan Heden - L'Art Contemporain, 1911, no. 151

Venice, XI. Esposizione Internazionale d’Arte della Citta dei Venezia, 1914, no. 53

Brussels, Galerie Georges Giroux, James Ensor, 1920, no. 15

Antwerp, Kunstvan Heden - L'Art Contemporain, 1921, no. 54

Paris, Galerie Barbazanges, James Ensor, 1926

Hannover, Kestner Gesellschaft, James Ensor, 1927, no. 23

Berlin, Galerie Paul Cassirer, James Ensor, 1927

Dresden, Galerie Neue Kunst Fides, James Ensor, 1927

Paris, Musée du Jeu de Paume, L’Art Belge depuis l’Impressionnisme, 1928, no. 73

Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Retrospective James Ensor, 1929, no. 132

Amsterdam, E.J. van Wisselingh, Cent ans d’art belge, 1931, no. 71

Paris, Musée du Jeu de Paume, L'Oeuvre de James Ensor, 1932, no. 44

Antwerp, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Exposition de la collection François Franck, 1933, no. 81

Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts, L’Art Contemporain, 1935, no. 140

Paris, Gazette des Beaux-Arts, Ensor, 1939, no. 16

London, National Gallery, The Works of James Ensor, 1946, no. 14

Antwerp, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Retrospective James Ensor, 1951, no. 61

New York, The Museum of Modern Art; Boston, The Institute of Contemporary Art; Cleveland, The Cleveland Museum of Art & St. Louis, The City Art Museum, James Ensor, 1951-1952, no. 22

Paris, Musée National d'Art Moderne, James Ensor, 1954, no. 36

London, Marlborough Fine Art, James Ensor 1860-1960, a retrospective centenary exhbition, 1960, no. 38

Ostend, Stedelijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, James Ensor, 1960, no. 45

Otterlo, Rijksmuseum Kröller- Müller, Ensor 1860-1949, 1961, no. 29

Rotterdam, Museum Boymans van Beuningen, Ensor 1860-1949, 1961, no. 29

Basel, Kunsthalle, James Ensor, 1963, no. 33

Münster, Westfälisches Landesmuseum, James Ensor, 1963, no. 33

Paris, Musée de l’Orangerie, L’Art flamand d’Ensor à Permeke, 1970, no. 72

London, Royal Academy of Arts, Ensor to Permeke, Nine Flemish Painters, 1880-1950, 1971, no. 65

Chicago, Art Institute of Chicago & New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, James Ensor, 1976-1977, no. 20, illustrated in color in the catalogue

Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts, L’Art en Belgique 1880-1950, 1978, no. 35

London, Royal Academy of Arts, Post-Impressionism, Cross-Currents in European Painting, 1979-80, no. 394

Zurich, Kunsthaus & Antwerp, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, James Ensor, 1983 no. 50 (no. 55 in Antwerp), p. 121, illustrated in color in the catalogue

Copenhagen, Ordrupgaard & Basel, Kunstmuseum Basel, James Ensor from the Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp and Swiss Collections, 2013-14, no. 21, illustrated in color in the catalogue

Martigny, Fondation Pierre Gianadda, 1997-2015 (on loan)


Emile Verhaeren, James Ensor, Brussels, 1908, p. 112

Grégoire Le Roy, James Ensor, Brussels & Paris, 1922, illustrated p. 70

Lucien Schwob, Ensor, Brussels & Paris, 1936, illustrated  pl. XL

Paul Fierens, James Ensor, Paris, 1943, illustrated p. 76

Julio E. Payro, James Ensor, Buenos Aires, 1943, illustrated pl. 38

Paul Haesaerts, James Ensor, Brussels, 1957, no. 161, illustrated p. 276

Francine-Claire Legrand, Ensor cet inconnu, Brussels, 1971, no. 67, illustrated in color p. 21

Xavier Tricot, James Ensor, Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, 1875-1902, Antwerp, 1992, vol. I, no. 256, illustrated pp. 230-23

Jacques Janssens, James Ensor, Paris, 1990, illustrated p. 37

Olivier Bertand & Stefaan Hautekeete, Rik Wouters, Jalons d'une vie, Antwerp, 1994, no. 47, illustrated in color p. 31

Fondation Pierre Gianadda, ed., Collection Louis et Evelyn Franck, Zurich, 1998, illustrated in color p. 37

Xavier Tricot, James Ensor, Ostfildern, 2009, no. 272, illustrated in color p. 57 & 291

Catalogue Note

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 landscapes of the Flemish Old Masters, particularly a fascination with rendering of light that was a central preoccupation of artists such as Pieter Claesz and Jan Davidsz de Heem.  But perhaps the most recognizable influence here is that of Turner, whose hazy, atmospheric compositions exalted the dramatic forces of nature through hazes of color. 

Except for three years spent at the Brussels Academy (1877 to 1880), Ensor lived in Ostend all his life. The scene here depicts the city, with its church spires piercing through the mist. This work exemplifies the particular type of “mood painting” that Ensor found so fascinating during this period of his career.  These pictures were characterized by highly experimental rendering that dissolved objects depicted  in a wash of light and color.  The resulting scenes provided a sense of mood rather than location. They were a stark departure from the highly-detailed paintings of northern European harbors and urban vistas that defined the landscape painting of the Academy.