Works by the Belgian artist James Ensor, including some that have never been publicly exhibited before, are currently on show in a New York gallery.
Some of the most historic works by the artist, also known as Baron Ensor, who was a monumental figure in the late 19th-century Belgian avant-garde and a singular influence in the development of Expressionism, are on show at the Gladstone Gallery’s Gladstone 64 location to the east of the city’s Central Park.
The ‘James Ensor. An Intimate Portrait’ exhibition brings together a set of oil paintings, drawings, and etchings, created between 1888 and 1896, his younger years, but also most significant periods of creation, during which he created the quintessence of his work.
On show are his “fantastically bizarre and sometimes grotesque” paintings, comprised of thick slabs of paint, that depict characters with garish masks, holding up a satirical mirror to Belgian society.
The exhibition catalogue includes essays by Susan M. Canning, Sabine Taevernier, Herwig Todts, and Xavier Tricot that accompany the show and also contains a series of essays that further explore the themes presented in this presentation.
By showcasing such a diverse collection of subjects and figures, objectifying the masking element of his work, the exhibition manages to demonstrate Ensor’s perceptive eye in “capturing both his internal strife and the external variables that impacted him and the artists, friends, and family he was surrounded by.”
Ensor was a painter and printmaker who was born James Sidney Edouard to an English father and Belgian mother in Ostend on 13 April 1860 and who died in the same coastal town in 1949.
He faced a challenging childhood, marked by depression, anxiety and alcoholism in the family, but found refuge in his attic studio, where Ensor surrounded himself with his paintings, drawings, and collection of found masks that inspired his realistic and imaginary narratives.
From a young age, he was considered a fierce individualist who was often at odds with his Impressionist contemporaries for being considered avant-garde.
His works had a significant influence on expressionism and surrealism, and he was associated with the exhibition society known as Les XX (Les Vingt), a collaboration of 20 artists who were seen as the most avant-garde group of artists exhibiting in Europe at that time.
Although Ensor spent most of his time in the seaside town of Ostend, he would also spend a lot of time in Brussels, primarily in the wintertime. By combining these two very different locations, he was able to enjoy a wide variety of experiences and cultivate friendships with significant figures who deeply influenced his work.
The exhibition will be on show in New York until January 15, 2022.