About this artwork

James Ensor is one of the most original and bizarre artists in the history of art in Belgium. At the beginning of his career he painted interiors of welltodo middleclass citizens known as '‘bourgeois salons'’. Through the Brussels art circle '‘Les Vingt'’ he was introduced to the irrational Symbolism of the French artist Odilon Redon. The papiermà¢ché carnival masks sold in Ensor'’s mother'’s shop were an interesting source of inspiration for developing a highly personal imagery. It is more than likely that this '‘Old Lady with Masks'’ was initially intended as a portrait. Ensor reworked the portrait by adding a multitude of masks that radically changed the atmosphere of the scene. It was shown in 1891 at the exhibition of '‘Les Vingt'’ in Brussels this time with the title '‘Le théà¢tre des masques'’ or '‘Bouquet d'’artifice'’. This '‘Old Lady with Masks'’ is intriguing on account of the remarkable contrast between the peaceful and gentle expression of the woman and the fearsome and threatening masks that surround her.

About the collection

The Museum of Fine Arts Ghent has a collection of about 9,000 works, from the Middle Ages to the first half of the 20th century. Over 600 works are shown in the museum’s permanent collection presentation. The spotlight is mainly on painting from the Southern Netherlands but print art, sculpture and European painting are also well represented. Moreover, the museum is a knowledge centre for the art of the 19th century, the fin de siècle and the early 20th century.

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