Friday, November 18, 2016

Intrigue: James Ensor by Luc Tuymans

The Royal Academy of Arts
29 October 2016 – 29 January 2017

The Royal Academy of Arts will present the first major exhibition of James Ensor’s (1860 - 1949) work to be held in the UK in twenty years.  One of Belgium’s most prominent modernist artists, Ensor was widely considered to be an important precursor of Expressionism.  Intrigue: James Ensor by Luc Tuymans will bring together some 70 paintings, drawings and prints by the artist, the vast majority of which have been drawn from major Belgian collections.  The exhibition will be curated by the renowned contemporary painter and one of Belgium’s foremost artists, Luc Tuymans, who will bring a fresh perspective to the selection and presentation of Ensor’s work.   


A highly skilled draughtsman and painter, Ensor had a deep appreciation of the poetic possibilities of light and a lifelong devotion to the inherent creativity of the mind.  His eclectic visual language drew upon a wealth of subjects from t he traditional to the fantastic, producing an extraordinary body of work that spanned poetic evocations of the Belg ian countr yside and coastline , to disturbing visions of imagined worlds.   

James Ensor, Skeletons Fighting over a Pickled Herring, 1891

Ensor’s works have continued to baffle , intrigue and defy categorisation in equal measure, providing one of the most singular and distinctive bodies of work to be produced at the turn of the twentieth century.   

James Ensor, Bathing Hut, 1876 

Born in 1860 to an English father and a Belgian mother, Ensor was raised in the coastal town of Ostend , where his fam ily ran a curio shop which he described as “an inextricable jumble of assorted objects constantly being knocked over by a number of cats, deafening parrots, and a monkey...”. 

It was this somewhat eccentric environment, as well as Ostend’s annual carnival and the archaeologic al excavations at the time, from which Ensor drew much of his later imagery such as masks, theatrical costumes and skulls.  Referred to as “the painter of masks” by poet Émile Verhaeren in 1908, Ensor wrote: “The mask means to me: freshness of colour, extravagant decorations, wild generous gestures, strident expressions, exquisite turbulence.” 

As a student at the Académie Royale des Beaux - Arts in Brussels, Ensor was an outsider who rebelled against traditional teachings and was drawn towards the avant-garde salons of artists and intellectuals at the time, an environment in which he flourished.  Heartened by these encounters, Ensor returned to Ostend in 1880 where he remained for the rest of his life. In 1883 he co-founded the progressive artist group Les Vingt , yet even this once stridently avant-garde group proved too safe for Ensor who became increasingly isolated from the external world and remained committed , throughout a long and belatedly successful career, to his individual style.  

Intrigue: James Ensor by Luc Tuymans will include a selection of significant paintings, drawings and prints by the artist which span the brea d th of his entire career, some of which have never been exhibited in the UK.   

The exhibition will feature three of Ensor’s most important works : 

The Intrigue, 1890 (Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp), which depicts a newly - wed couple encircled by sinister masked figures, 

The Skate, 1892 (Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Brussels), a powerful, enigmatic still life 

and Self - portrait with Flowered Hat, 1883 (Mu.Zee, O stend), a humorous reference to 

Peter Paul Rubens’ Portrait of Susanna Lunden (National Gallery, London) of 1622. 

Excellent review,more images: