‘Old Lady with Masks’ © DACS London 2007
Lady Lever Gallery artwork of the month for July 2007 – ‘Old Lady with Masks’, by James Ensor
About the artwork
Picture of the Month for July comes on loan from the Museum of Fine Arts, Ghent, along with 33 etchings and drawings.
The masks that cluster and grimace around the woman’s face are perhaps the least surprising elements in this picture; least surprising, that is, in view of the painter’s background. Indeed, it would have been more surprising had such imagery not been utilised in his art.
James Sidney Ensor was the son of an English engineer, and a Belgian woman, Maria Catherina Haegheman, whose family ran a novelty shop in Ostend. The business catered for the vast Carnival which transformed the dour, grey off-season seaside town every year before Lent. Ensor spent practically his entire life surrounded by the grotesque masks which the Haegheman family’s Wunderkammer offered for sale or hire to revellers. But the garish, papier maché jollity of the window displays masked a grim domestic life within. Ensor’s father was an alcoholic and a bankrupt, financially dependent on his wife’s family. He would eventually die from exposure, drunk in an Ostend doorway
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