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Ensor’s work delves into the bizarre and strange relationships between beings. The images look like they could’ve been created yesterday. His sensibilities would be right in line with today…think Oingo Boingo, Tim Burton, Danny Elfman. 

Ensor’s father, James Frederic Ensor, born in Brussels of English parents, was a cultivated man who studied engineering in England and Germany.Ensor’s mother, Maria Catherina Haegheman, was Belgian. Ensor himself lacked interest in academic study and left school at the age of fifteen to begin his artistic training with two local painters. From 1877 to 1880, he attended the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, where one of his fellow students was Fernand Khnopff. Ensor first exhibited his work in 1881. From 1880 until 1917, he had his studio in the attic of his parents’ house. His only travels were three brief trips to Paris,London, and Holland.

During the late 19th century much of his work was rejected as scandalous, particularly his painting Entry of Christ into Brussels (1888–89), but his paintings continued to be exhibited, and he gradually won acceptance and acclaim. In 1895 his painting The Lamp Boy (1880) was acquired by the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium in Brussels, and he had his first solo exhibition in Brussels. By 1920 he was the subject of major exhibitions; in 1929 he was named a Baron by King Albert, and was the subject of the Belgian composer Flor Alpaerts‘s “James Ensor Suite”; and in 1933 he was awarded the band of the Légion d’honneur. Even in the first decade of the 20th century, however, his production of new works was diminishing, and he increasingly concentrated on music—although he had no musical training, he was a gifted improviser on the harmonium, and spent much time performing for visitors.

Against the advice of friends, he remained in Ostend during World War II despite the risk of bombardment. In his old age he was an honored figure among Belgians, and his daily walk made him a familiar sight in Ostend. He died there after a short illness, on 19 November 1949.

Ensor has been paid homage by contemporary painters and artists in other media: he is the subject of a song, “Meet James Ensor”, recorded in 1994 by the alternative rock duo They Might Be Giants. The 1996 Belgian movie, Camping Cosmos, was inspired by drawings of James Ensor, in particular Carnaval sur la plage (1887), La mort poursuivant le troupeau des humains (1896), and Le bal fantastique (1889). The film’s director, Jan Bucquoy, is also the creator of a comic Le Bal du Rat mort inspired by Ensor.

An exhibition of approximately 120 works by James Ensor was shown at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City in 2009, and then at the Musée d’Orsay, Paris, October 2009–February 2010.

A portrait of James Ensor can be seen hanging in the room of Laurie Strode from the 1978 movie Halloween.

In his old age he was an honored figure among Belgians, and his daily walk made him a familiar sight in Ostend. He died there after a short illness, on 19 November 1949.

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