James Ensor (Belgian, 1860 - 1949)
1890. Oil on canvas, 23 13/16 x 30 3/8. 1991.001.014
James Ensor’s nightmarish paintings were a forerunner of twentieth-century Expressionism and Surrealism. Ensor was born and lived most of his life in Ostend, Belgium, where his family kept a souvenir shop. The seashells, toys, and lurid carnival masks sold in the shop appear in many of his paintings. Disgusted by modern society and the violent, brutish nature of humanity, Ensor filled his paintings with masked figures—symbols of hypocrisy—whose ugliness reveals both the true selves of the figures and the bitterness and pessimism of his own inner world.