Artwork of the Day – James Ensor

Image courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Ghent.

Liverpool artwork of the day – Monday July 2 2007. ‘Old Lady With Masks’ 1889 by James Ensor (1860 – 1949) at Lady Lever until September 22 2007

This painting is part of a new exhibition at Lady Lever Art Gallery entitled ‘Masquerade: The Work of James Ensor’

The Belgian painter and printmaker, James Ensor was the son of Anglo-Belgian parents. His father, whom he idolized, was of English descent and died of alcoholism in 1887. His Belgian mother ran a tourist souvenir shop in the seaside resort of Ostend. The shop’s contents – seashells, figurines, Chinese curios, and above all the masks that were sold for Ostend’s renowned annual Carnival festivities – influenced much of Ensor’s imagery.

This exhibition focuses on his important painting Old Lady with Masks (1889) and explores the diversity of his themes – religion and politics, literature and fantasy – through his prints and drawings. Ensor was as influential technically in his prints, most of which were created between 1886 and 1900, as in his paintings.

Masks, skeletons and religious subjects pervaded Ensor’s work. His blend of tragedy and macabre comedy, grotesque satire alongside whimsical fantasy, met with criticism early in his career, but influenced later artists. His bitter mockery often exposed the arrogance and power of the church, small town society, and monarchy. Often he mixed sacred and profane, fantasy with pointed social criticism and dream with reality. For Ensor “Reason was the enemy of Art