Herbert Helbig - Bildersammlung - James Ensor

Erläuterung der Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique zur Ausstellung
24.09.1999 - 13.02.2000
in Brüssel


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James Ensor (1860 - 1949)

After an initial period characterized by somber colors and rich, thick and oily palette, Ensor became obsessed by the search for and rendering of light. From then on he defied all of the established rules, with each new painting attesting to a pictorial feat beyond traditional techniques. Ensor was also daring in his selection of subjects. In addition to still-lives and landscapes, he painted masks, skeletons, interiors, and religious subjects, all with an irreverent spirit and marked by the humor and taste for farce that was innate to Ensor. He also liked to use himself as a model, placed within a scene bearing the features of Christ or surrounded by grimacing demons. Each work immerses us in a fantastic universe that prefigures expressionism and surrealism. A unique and indefinable personality, Ensor is a beacon that illuminates not only the 19th century, but also shines brilliantly into the 20th. He made an indelible imprint upon the art of his time.

The exhibition

This retrospective exhibition is the first of such significance in Brussels since that organized in 1929 at the Palais des Beaux- Arts. It features some 370 works by Ensor from museums and private collections, primarily paintings and drawings from 1876 up until his death. Prints, selected because of their rarity, attests to another facet of his talent, while archival documents illuminate the man, the objects of his affections and his feelings. Works executed before 1900 are highlighted in particular, as they document what the artist sought to achieve at a time when he was the object of increasingly virulent criticism from the artistic world. Much later Ensor returned to some of his former subjects and occasionally produced several versions of the same work. The presence of some of these series in the exhibition enables one to evaluate the course of his career.