James Ensor (1860-1949)
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James Ensor was a Belgian painter and an innovator in the art world. He was ahead of his time and created paintings that would be a precursor to Surrealism. Some art critics say that Ensor was one of the first painters to marry Symbolism and Realism, and that his work helped to pave the way for the transition from Symbolism to Surrealism. It is said that his work inspired the likes of Paul Klee and other Expressionist painters, and was a member of the group “Les Vingts” (the twenty). During his lifetime, Ensor created many paintings that were considered to be scandalous, and much of it was rejected, most notably his painting “Entry of Christ into Brussels.”
Ensor was born and lived most of his life in Ostend. His father was English and his mother was Belgian, and Ensor received his first training at the Brussels academy in history and religious painting. Besides being classically trained in the arts, Ensor was also a master draftsman and printmaker. He began his career painting portraits, and eventually became involved in the avant-garde movement. Ensor essentially became the unofficial founder and leader of the “Les Vingts” (also known as Les XX), and he helped to promote new artistic ideas all over Europe. Art critics were not kind to this group, however, and they disbanded after ten years.
One of Ensor’s most notable and frequently repeated themes are death, and particularly, skeletons. This grim theme is a trademark of Ensor’s, and was a recurring theme, attributed almost solely to Esnor during the early 1890’s.
As a young man, Ensor suffered a great deal, which perhaps reflected in his art. Not only did he suffer from ulcers, but his family forbad him from marrying the woman that he loved. This brought him great despair, and Ensor eventually returned to painting religious subjects through much of the 1890’s. Towards the end of that decade, he sold the entire contents of his studio, making the whereabouts for many of his sketches and un-cataloged work virtually unknown.
By the turn of the century, Ensor had found commercial success and the respect of art critics. He was even given the title of Baron and knighted. He continued to work right up until his death at the age of 89, and even created musical compositions and ballet scenery in his later years.
Today, Ensor’s work is housed world wide and perhaps in your own home. Still wondering about a Belgian Surrealist/Expressionist piece in your family’s estate? Contact us…it could be by James Ensor.