Masks Confronting Death

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James Ensor

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Masks Confronting Death

James Ensor. Masks Confronting Death. 1888. Oil on canvas, 32 x 39 1/2" (81.3 x 100.3 cm). Mrs. Simon Guggenheim Fund. © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SABAM, Brussels

Audio Program excerpt

James Ensor

June 28–September 21, 2009

Director, Glenn Lowry: Masks appear often in Ensor's work. They were a familiar part of his life in Ostend, where the biggest holiday of the year was Carnival, right before Lent. Then revelers donned masks and celebrated with parades and raucous parties.

Curator, Anna Swinbourne: Ensor would fill his studio with everyday objects from the store downstairs and use these objects to craft dramas. It's a constructed mise-en-scene, where he places the objects as he wishes in his studio and then paints from that. He is bringing together the power of his imagination with a traditional rendition of a composition.

Artist, Terry Winters: Here it's even more focused and up front in terms of Ensor's really gifted relationship to paint and how he's able to almost give a direction to every brush stroke. Like every brush stroke is coming from another angle. And I think that's part of what helps animate the painting, and also give it a kind of rhythm or movement just through the way he's modeling the paint surface.

His ability to mix white with almost all his colors as a unifying device, and also to give a kind of light so it's coming from inside the painting and on the surface of the painting through this use of white, is something that's very particular to him. They were very finely tuned, every one of his paintings, in terms of how the brush strokes were applied, the amount of paint that was on the brush, and the angle or the arc of each stroke, and its relationship to each other stroke.