Monday, 28 November 2016

James Ensor and the Belgian Avant-Garde


Thanks for joining me today. I've been to the last of this year's art talks which was about Belgian Artist James Ensor. I must admit that I didn't know about his work although a couple of pictures did look familiar. The Royal Academy exhibition is currently on and the place to visit to see more. Here are my notes.

James Ensor was born in 1866 and spent most of his life in Ostend in Belgium with only a few trips to London and Paris. His father was an alcoholic whereas his mother and grandmother, who ran souvenir shops, were strong women and firmly in charge. As a small child he was sensitive and delicate and had a phobia of spiders. The love of his life was Augusta Boogaerts but he was stopped from marrying her however she remained a good companion, helping to mix his paints when older. He studied at the Royal Academy in Brussels.  There was a lot of unrest in Belgium during his life.

Self portrait with a flowered hat 1883-88 with similarities to Rubens
The exhibition relates to work during his best period of the 1880/90s. His work wasn't appreciated at the time with many complaints that it was too dark and only admired when his talents were already beginning to wane later in life. He was made a Baron and became a widespread influence for the German Expressionists, Surrealists, Jackson Pollack, Marc Chagall and was a member of the international movement Les Vingts which included many famous artists.

Beach Hut 1876
His work was based on the experience of his life, local, everyday subjects, satire and his use of light. A lot of his work features carnivals, skeletons and masks, which he would have come across in his family curiosity shops. He experimented with various styles and painting methods like palette knife, scumble as well as with a brush and although he hated post impressionism, some of his work has elements of it.

The Intrigue 1890 - masks symbolise hypocrisy, reveal a lack of brains, are menacing, paintings often have a skeleton to indicate death is ever present.
The entry of Christ into Brussels 1889 - this huge painting was considered his masterpiece. There are lots of masks/skeleton in a hat/carnival with Christ a small figure in the centre.  It was a very difficult time in Ensor's personal life/non-acceptance of his art/the art world in general/times in Belgium that he painted this satire mocking politicians and their hypocrisy. He saw himself as the forgotten Christ figure with people just blindly following the wrong leaders/style of art.
Skeletons Warming Themselves 1889 - again a satire showing his feelings that art in general was remaining static/freezing.
Ensor died in Ostend in 1949.

All the pictures here are from the internet and as always there is much more information about Ensor to be found there.

Let's hope there are a few more talks next year as it's been very interesting finding out more about the artists and the hidden meanings within their work in the context of the artists' lives.

I'm linking this post to Barbara's Paint Monthly link-up.



  1. The talks sound fascinating. I wonder if I will come across Ensor while in Bruges. Thank you so much for all your contributions to Paint monthly this month. A very artistic month for you :) B x

    1. I probably won't have anything else for you for a while! I had a quick look to see if there's anything in Bruges but only came up with a hotel! x

  2. Those first two are amazing. Not as keen on the others. I hadn't heard of him before so thank you for the info xx