The young artist is a very good connoisseur of ancient art. The Entrance of Christ in Brussels, painted in 1889, is an anarchist-inspired crowd scene in a theme in the follow of Bosch and Bruegel.
Ensor lives for his art without providing information about his private life, but he likes to introduce his real image amidst the carnival masks. The danses macabres (dances of death) inspire him and his skeletons are indeed self-portraits. He is tall and handsome. The hussar with a dead's head who dominates the other characters in the scene is him again.
James Ensor introduces in his art riddles and messages to be decoded. The small oil on canvas 16 x 21 cm entitled Squelettes se disputant un hareng (skeletons contesting a herring) painted in 1891 is a masterpiece of Surrealism a quarter of a century before the creation of that movement. There is no difference in French pronunciation between hareng saur and Art Ensor.
An oil on canvas 30 x 51 cm has just surfaced. Entitled Squelette arrêtant masques (skeleton stopping masks), this oil on canvas had long been kept by the artist who gave it to a friend. Emile Verhaeren had listed it in Ensor's studio in 1908 but it had never been photographed or exhibited. It is estimated € 1M for sale by Sotheby's in Paris on December 7, lot 11.
Squelette arrêtant masques was painted in 1891 and displays high similarities in style with Squelettes se disputant un hareng : the characters are seen half length leaving all the top part of the picture for a superb Ostend sky.
The scene shows seven masks typical of the carnival of Ostend opposed to the hussar who manages to repel them. Their opposition is social : we do not know which sordid truth every mask can hide or which actual role the good bourgeois of Ostend wishes to play during the carnival. The soldier's skull shows his reality, it is the opposite of the mask. This skeleton lives his own life within a derisory and rejectable world, as the artist himself is doing.
Squelette arrêtant masques is signed ENSOR accompanied by a red ace of spades that seems single in the art of Ensor and has not been explained. In my opinion, this ace designates the artist as the champion of his own dissenting opinions. The spades card (in French : pique) is a military symbol that reinforces the identification of the hussar as a self-portrait. Red is the symbol of the revolution for the socialists.
SOLD for € 7.4M including premium