Gluttony, from The Deadly Sins portfolio. 1904. Hand colored etching. MoMa
James Ensor was Belgian artist, known for his influential 19th century paintings and prints. The artist was born in Brussels, where he studied at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts. During his lifetime, Ensor’s work was controversial as the artist chose to take artistic liberties in his interpretation of religious and political themes. His work was famously rejected from Les XX, an art group, which he helped to found.
Hop Frog’s Revenge. 1898. Hand colored etching. MoMa
Criticism did not deter Ensor, who continued to work despite criticism from his own peers. As a printmaker, Ensor created around 140 prints. Most his prints were etchings that were occasionally hand colored with pencil or watercolor. His etchings are appreciated for their extreme detail and often gruesome or twisted content. In his etching The Skaters, for example, Ensor does not romanticize the winter sport but shows a number of skater falling down on the ice. The narrative is both dark and comical.
The Skaters. 1889. Etching and aquatint
Roman Victory. 1889. Etching
Envy, form The Deadly Sins. 1904. Hand Colored Etching. MoMa
Ensor’s prints are now highly regarded by modern art collections. The Museum of Modern art, New York refers to Ensor as “a major figure in the Belgian avant-garde.” The Getty describes Ensor’s work as the “forerunner of twentieth –century Expressionism.” Art historians and critics are now unanimous in their recognition of Ensor’s place in modern art history.