James Ensor. Masks Confronting Death. 1888
James Ensor

Masks Confronting Death

1888
On view
Medium
Oil on canvas
Dimensions
32 x 39 1/2" (81.3 x 100.3 cm)
Credit
Mrs. Simon Guggenheim Fund
Object number
505.1951
Copyright
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SABAM, Brussels
Department
Painting and Sculpture

A group of masked figures confronts the figure of Death, centrally situated and draped in whitea color that infiltrates the entire picture. Composed of masks adorned with drapery, hats, and even blue glasses, the arrangement of figures recalls Ensor's earlier still-life compositions. The ubiquitous masks in Ensor's work were likely based on those sold in his family's curiosity shop a few floors below his studio. He explained, "The mask means to me: freshness of color, sumptuous decoration, wild unexpected gestures, very shrill expressions, exquisite turbulence." In this painting, the fantastical masked inventions appear to come alive and challenge Death—perhaps a reflection of the artist's preoccupation with mortality and his hope that he might prevail against its inevitable dominion.

Gallery label from James Ensor, June 28–September 21, 2009

Provenance Research Project
This work is included in the Provenance Research Project, which investigates the ownership history of works in MoMA's collection.
Mr. and Mrs. Ernest Rousseau, Brussels. [Likely purchased from the artist by Mariette Rousseau, 1890] By 1905 – 1921
Mrs. G. Born, Anvers/Antwerp. By 1922 – at least until 1947
Gustave van Geluwe (1881-1962), Brussels. By 1949 – 1951
Galerie Georges Giroux, Brussels. Agent for van Geluwe, 1951
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchased from Galerie Georges Giroux, 1951

If you have any questions or information to provide about the listed works, please e-mail provenance@moma.org or write to:

Provenance Research Project
The Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53 Street
New York, NY 10019

Pictured above: Vasily Kandinsky. Panel for Edwin R. Campbell No. 2 (detail). 1914. Oil on canvas, 64 1/8 x 48 3/8" (162.6 x 122.7 cm). Nelson A. Rockefeller Fund (by exchange). © 2009 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

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Image permissions

In order to effectively service requests for images, The Museum of Modern Art entrusts the licensing of images of works of art in its collections to the agencies Scala Archives and Art Resource. As MoMA’s representatives, these agencies supply high-resolution digital image files provided to them directly by the Museum's imaging studios.

All requests to reproduce works of art from MoMA's collection within North America (Canada, U.S., Mexico) should be addressed directly to Art Resource at 536 Broadway, New York, New York 10012. Telephone (212) 505-8700; fax (212) 505-2053; requests@artres.com; artres.com. Requests from all other geographical locations should be addressed directly to Scala Group S.p.A., 62, via Chiantigiana, 50012 Bagno a Ripoli/Firenze, Italy. Telephone 39 055 6233 200; fax 39 055 641124; firenze@scalarchives.com; scalarchives.com.

Requests for permission to reprint text from MoMA publications should be addressed to text_permissions@moma.org.

Related links:
Outside North America: Scala Archives
North America: Art Resource