Ensor was born in 1860 in Ostend, Belgium, a seaside town where he would live most of his life. His mother ran a curio shop filled with tchotchkes, shells, costumes and, significantly, carnival masks that would later figure into his compositions. Between 1877 and 1880, Ensor studied at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, painting more traditional interior scenes and still lifes.
After his work was rejected by the Brussels Salon in 1883, he joined Les Vingt, a group of artists invested in Symbolism, and began to incorporate more fantastical imagery such as skulls, masks and spectres into his canvases. Yet for all their grotesquery, Ensor’s paintings could be deeply comedic, as seen in Skeletons Fighting over a Pickled Herring, in which two bedecked skeletons fight over the titular herring. His brush was acerbic, mocking everything from the Catholic Church to the Belgian government, bourgeois society and the art world.
Although known for his satirical phantasmagoria, Ensor was in fact quite diverse in his output, painting landscapes, seascapes and Christ’s sufferings; Christ’s Entry into Brussels in 1889 is considered his masterpiece. Alongside his painterly practice, Ensor created a significant number of drawings and prints. With regards to the latter, he first turned to the medium in 1886 and over the course of his career produced over 100 prints, the vast majority of which were etchings.
Novel and imaginative, Ensor’s work is nevertheless replete with references to the artists he most revered. Elements taken from and homages to Jean Siméon Chardin, Peter Paul Rubens and Goya, among others, are present in his paintings, shaping both his colour palette and imagery. In that vein, Ensor was similarly influential, helping to inspire Surrealism and German Expressionism.
At the turn of the century, Ensor’s artistic practice slowed just as he began to receive wider recognition. His focus instead shifted to writing — he contributed texts to various publications – and later music. Still, his star continued to rise, and in 1929 the largest retrospective of his work to date opened at the Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels. Solo exhibitions were held in subsequent years at the Jeu de Paume, Paris and the National Gallery, London, among others. Ensor passed away in Ostend in 1949.
Projet pour Cortège représente Maurice de Nassau à Ostende après la Bataille de Nieuport (III)
Projet pour Cortège représente Maurice de Nassau à Ostende après la Bataille de Nieuport (IV)
Projet pour Cortège représente Maurice de Nassau à Ostende après la Bataille de Nieuport (II)