Biography of James Ensor (1860-1949)

Belgian painter, pioneer of expressionism, born in Ostend on 13 April 1860 and died in Ostend on November 19, 1949.

In 1876 he/she enrolled in the Academy of Ostend. His fondness for drawing him accompanied from a child, when he/she began to paint seascapes, dunes and landscape views. In 1877 he/she enrolled at the Royal Academy of fine arts in Brussels and in 1879 he/she painted his first self-portrait. In 1880 he/she returned to Ostend and the year following began to expose; his work was then of romantic realist style, but soon began to evolve because of their discovery of French impressionism, which still was anathema in the Belgian provincial environment.

His Impressionist palette and the introduction of sarcastic songs (beggars, drunks, masks) were very shocking. In masks escandalizadas of 1883, reflects the cultural heritage of the Flemish and Dutch painting; the picture shows a common scene in the atmosphere of Carnival: a masked figure sitting on a table and another that comes through the door, remain paralysed in the meeting. The masked figures derived from the Flemish Carnival but isolated in a macabre atmosphere, here, cease to be mere masks, become the representation of reality and carry out a kind of communion with the monsters. This book displeased the jury of the Salon of Brussels, which denied entry in 1884.

With other artists, Ensor founded in 1883 an avant-garde group called Les XX, who began organizing an annual exhibition from 1884. That same year he/she traveled first to Paris, and in 1887 to London to see the work of Turner. The following year the entry of Christ into Brussels started his masterpiece in 1889. In this work he/she paints the passion of Christ in the center of a huge Carnival; Although the theme is religious, their feeling is rather misanthropic, and represents a criticism to stupidity, indifference and the venality of the modern world.

In the 1990s he/she focused attention on the invention of the antagonisms of his painting, with devastating results. In these years he/she made some of his most brilliant, and sometimes obscene, drawings and engravings; masks appear regularly in his work, as in portrait of the artist surrounded by masks (1899), which portrays himself disguised as a Rubens and gazing at the Viewer.

His first individual exhibition was recorded and took place in the Gallery of Brussels Dietrich in 1891; the following year was published the first monograph on the artist. In 1894 he/she founded the circle of fine arts in Ostend along with Guillaume Vogels, and made his first individual exhibition with paintings at the Comptoir de Arts Industriels La Royale in Brussels. In 1903 he/she met his main collectors, the Lambotte. In 1906 he/she began to compose the music for the ballet La Gamme d'amour, which also did the sets, costumes and the text; the project was completed in 1911.

Her first retrospective was in 1911 at the Rotterdamsche Kunstkring. He/She frequented the company of Emil Nolde. In 1920 Georges Giroux in Brussels made a solo exhibition at the gallery and sold six works to the Royal Museums of fine arts of Belgium. In 1927 he/she exhibited for the first time in Germany, and a major retrospective was organized in 1929 in the Palacio for fine arts; the entry of Christ into Brussels in 1889 was exhibited for the first time. A major exhibition at the Jeu de Paume in Paris and in 1946 in the National Gallery in London was opened in 1932.

In 1996 a major retrospective was held in Madrid, and in January 2005 exposed his most grotesque paintings in Salamanca, where you can check the strong influence that took the Spanish themes in the work of the Belgian painter.


Arnason, H.H. History of Modern Art, New York, Abrams, 1986

Tricot, Xavier, James Ensor, Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, Belgium, Pandora, 1992