Lot 23
  • 23

JAMES ENSOR | Les Ballerines (La Danse)

700,000 - 1,000,000 USD
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  • James Ensor
  • Les Ballerines (La Danse)
  • Signed Ensor and dated 96 (lower left)
  • Oil on canvas
  • 14 5/8 by 18 1/8 in.
  • 37.2 by 46 cm
  • Painted in 1896.


Ernest Rousseau, Brussels (acquired from the artist)

Édouard Hannon, Brussels

Mme Hannon-Chardin, Brussels (by descent from the above)

Thence by descent


Brussels, Musée Moderne, La Libre Esthétique, IVe Exposition, 1897, no. 233, illustrated in the catalogue (titled Danseuses)

Antwerp, Kunst van Heden, L'Art Contemporain, 1921, no. 61, illustrated in the catalogue (titled Fête galante)

Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts, James Ensor, 1929, no. 221

Brussels, Galerie Isy Brachot & Paris, Galerie Isy Brachot, James Ensor dans les collections privées II, 1985-86, no. 19, illustrated in color in the catalogue

Hamburg, Kunstverein, James Ensor, 1986-87, no. 27, illustrated in color in the catalogue

Brussels, Galerie Patrick DeromEnsor, la mort et le charme. Un autre Ensor, 1994, n.n.

Brussels, Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Ensor, 1999-2000, no. 133, illustrated in color in the catalogue

New York, Peter Freeman, Inc., James Ensor: Paintings, 2007, n.n., illustrated in color in the catalogue


Émile Verhaeren, James Ensor, Brussels, 1908, illustrated p. 95

Paul Colin, James Ensor, Potsdam, 1921, illustrated p. 67

Grégoire Le Roy, James Ensor, Brussels & Paris, 1922, illustrated n.p. (dated 1895)

André de Ridder, James Ensor, Paris, 1930, illustrated pl. 39

Julio E. Payro, James Ensor, Buenos Aires, 1943, illustrated pl. 41 (titled Las bailarinas and dated 1895)

Paul Haesaerts, James Ensor, New York, 1959, no. 169, illustrated p. 322 (dated 1895)

Xavier Tricot, Ensoriana, Oostende, 1985, no. 32a, listed p. 35 (with incorrect dimensions)

Francine-Claire Legrand, Ensor, la mort et le charme. Un autre Ensor, Antwerp, 1993, illustrated in color p. 199

Xavier Tricot, James Ensor, Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, 1875–1902, vol. I, Antwerp, 1992, no. 370, illustrated p. 370 (with incorrect dimensions)

Xavier Tricot, James Ensor, The Complete Paintings, Ostfildern, 2009, no. 383, illustrated in color p. 325 (with incorrect dimensions)

Catalogue Note

Displaying an exquisite grace of style and subject matter, Les Ballerines (La Danse) typifies the transitional style of James Ensor’s work of the 1890s. This moment is marked by the shift away from the realism that defined Ensor’s early career towards his full embracing of the bizarre and fantastic within his oeuvre. With his powerful and definitive brushstrokes heightening the vivacity of the dancers in the present work, Ensor evokes tactility in both his execution of the scene and his highly assured painterly touch. Much like his French contemporaries Edgar Degas and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Ensor often visited cabarets and concert halls and in these bastions of entertainment, freedom and revelry he found a veritable reservoir of satire and inspiration for the often peculiar and grotesque motifs in his work. The mask-like countenance of the mysterious figure in the foreground of Les Ballerines (La Danse) anticipates the carnivals, masks, puppetry and skeletons that would dominate Ensor’s mature work. The pioneering style Ensor adopted called attention to the uncanny, upending traditional expectations of portraiture and recast many time-honored narratives so that they were applicable for the modern age. By the mid-1880s, influenced by the bright colors of the Impressionists and the grotesque imagery of earlier Flemish masters such as Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Brueghel the Elder, Ensor turned toward increasingly innovative themes and styles. The exaggeration of forms and emphasis on the fanciful paved the way for the Expressionist and Surrealist movements that would dominate the European avant-garde during the first half of the twentieth century. Ensor studied at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts of Brussels from 1877 to 1880 alongside many of the young artists who would become part of the avant-garde group Les XX—Fernand Khnopff, Rudolph Wystman and Willy Schlobach and, for a brief moment in 1880, Vincent van Gogh. It was during this time that Ensor was introduced to the Rousseau family through Theo Hannon, who was also a student at the academy. Ernest Rousseau, a professor of physics and geometry at the Université Libre de Bruxelles, his wife Mariette and his son Ernest-Joseph, would become close confidants of Ensor and appear in many of his early paintings. The family provided the young artist with a supportive circle of intellectuals and Ensor frequently attended Ernest’s progressive salon. Ernest Rousseau was the first owner of the present work, likely acquired from the artist shortly after its creation. The work then passed to the collection of Édouard Hannon, Ernest’s brother-in-law, and has remained with the family.

After 1900, as Ensor’s fame grew, collectors began to request replicate versions of his early compositions now held in private collections. Ensor therefore created a small series of secondary paintings, between 1908 and 1910, which are modeled on earlier compositions, changing minor details or the scale to differentiate the two works. This was the case with Les Ballerines (La Danse), a secondary version of which was made in 1908 for the gallerist Herbert von Garvens-Garvensburg.