James Ensor, the visionary painter
A brilliant painter and visionary, he tackled every kind of subject, becoming famous for genre scenes, still lifes, portraits and particularly self-portraits, landscapes, masks and skeletons. With his bold modernity, he dominated the Belgian art scene and was one of its forefathers, along with Van Gogh and Gaugin.
The young Ensor began to draw at the age of 13, inspired by local artists (Edouard Dubar and Michel Van Cuyck). He then enrolled at the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Brussels. A bachelor, Ensor set up a workshop in the attic of his family home and began to produce realistic portraits and landscapes inspired by Impressionism.
In 1833, he was involved in the creation of the group "Les XX" with a few of his artist friends. During the ten years of this group's existence, Ensor refined his artistic intentions, creating the series of drawings The Aureoles of Christ or the Sensitivities of the Light and launching his series of engravings with the themes of masks and skeletons.
James Ensor's work highlights the often grotesque aspect of things, reflecting a radical, sarcastic and even insolent view of the world. His obsessions and fears can clearly be seen in the traits he attributed to useful objects and spirits. In the 1880s, masks began to dominate his work; they referred to the carnival, to the "anarchic" world in which social relationships are revealed through the absurd. The masked characters and the skeletons swarming around in a carnival atmosphere make James Ensor the father of a fantastical, imaginary world that foreshadowed Surrealism.