ENSOR, James
(b. 1860, Oostende, d. 1949, Oostende)


Belgian painter, printmaker and draughtsman. Trained in Brussels, he spent most of his life in his native Ostend. In 1883 he joined a group known as Les Vingt (The Twenty) and began depicting skeletons, phantoms, masks, and other images of grotesque fantasy as social commentary. His Entry of Christ into Brussels (1888), painted in smeared, garish colours, provoked outrage.

No single label adequately describes the visionary work produced by Ensor between 1880 and 1900, his most productive period. His pictures from that time have both Symbolist and Realist aspects, and in spite of his dismissal of the Impressionists as 'superficial daubers' he was profoundly concerned with the effects of light. His imagery and technical procedures anticipated the colouristic brilliance and violent impact of Fauvism and German Expressionism and the psychological fantasies of Surrealism.

Ensor's most memorable and influential work was almost exclusively produced before 1900, but he was largely unrecognised before the 1920s in his own country. His work was highly influential in Germany, however: Emil Nolde visited him in 1911, and was influenced by his use of masks; Paul Klee mentions him admiringly in his diaries; Erich Heckel came to see him in the middle of the war and painted his portrait (1930; Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz-Museum); Alfred Kubin owned several of his prints, while Marc Chagall and George Grosz also adapted certain elements from Ensor. All the artists of the Cobra group saw him as a master. He influenced many Belgian artists.

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