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1860 - 1949

Ensor, James Sidney, Baron Ensor, born on April 13, 1860- died on November 19, 1949, Belgian painter and etcher.
Ensor's imagery reflected one of the most bizarre and powerful visions of his era. He left his native Ostend to study painting (1877-80) at the Académie de Bruxelles.
His early works were of traditional subjects—landscapes, still lifes, portraits, interiors—painted in deep, rich colors and lighted by subdued but vibrant light.
In Brussels he became one of the original members of "Les XX, a group of avant-garde artists, writers, and musicians. Ensor was highly inspired by literature (Balzac) and he himself inspired some writers (Jean Lorrain). As Ensor was active in the artistic fin-de-siècle milieu of Brussels, he had several writers for friends (Eekhoud, Demolder, Verhaeren, Blanche Rousseau and later Crommelynck, René Lyr).
Ensor exhibited with them regularly until 1888, when his pictures, particularly the Entry of Christ into Brussels (1888, J. Paul Getty Museum, Malibu, California), were rejected as scandalous. While the public and press were at first hostile to his work, his paintings continued to be exhibited, and he gradually won worldwide acclaim.
He took his subject matter principally from Oostende's holiday crowds, which filled him with revulsion and disgust. Portraying individuals as clowns or skeletons or replacing their faces with carnival masks, he represented humanity as stupid, smirking, vain, and loathsome.
In 1929, Ensor was made a baron by King Albert. His home in Ostend became a museum after his death.
His early style of painting is characterized by somber color, thick impasto, and an earthy realism with occasional hints of the fantastic. In the mid-1880s, influenced by the bright color of the impressionists and the grotesque imagery of earlier Flemish masters such as Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Ensor turned toward avant-garde themes and styles.
Toward 1883 his palette lightened, and by 1887 his paintings were flooded with intense light and strong color. From 1887 to 1900 he produced his most inventive and original work. Ensor's sources included the grotesque fantasies of Bosch, Bruegel, and Callot. Among his masterpieces is The Temptation of St. Anthony (Mus. of Modern Art, New York City). Ensor was also a prolific printmaker. More than half of his total output of 133 etchings was produced between 1886 and 1891. "Pictorial materials still worry me (in 1886). I dread the fragility of painting, exposed to the crimes of the restorer, to insufficiency, to the slander of reproductions. I want to survive, to speak to the people of tomorrow for a long time yet. I think of solid copper plates, of unalterable inks, of easy reproductions, of faithful printing, and I am adopting etching as a means of expression. "
In addition to his preoccupations with mortality, the macabre, and human folly, Ensor as also deeply concerned with the nature of light and the marine world he encountered in his native Ostend on the coast of the North Sea.

By 1900 the significant part of his work was finished; during the last 50 years of his life his paintings show hesitant draftsmanship and an absence of internal structure.
Ensor ranks as one of the great innovators of the late 19th cent.; his work had an important influence on 20th-century painting, his art transformed reality, his lurid subject matter paving the way for the psychological fantasies of Surrealism and Dada, and his techniques—particularly his brushwork and his coloristic sense—leading directly to expressionism.
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-Mus.); 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 including Léon Spilliaert, Rik Wouters, Constant Permeke, Frits van den Berghe, Paul Delvaux and Pierre Alechinsky. ...

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