The museum possesses the largest James Ensor collection in the world. All the pieces in this unique ensemble – ranging from paintings and drawings to archival materials – are the subject of systematic study.
In the wake of the scientific preparation of the many recent Ensor exhibitions at home and abroad, the museum made a start in 2010 with a concerted research programme into its sizeable Ensor collection. The purpose is to contribute to the body of knowledge on James Ensor within the context of the emergence of modernism in Western Europe. Especially the less well-known pieces in the Ensor collection constitute an important source in this respect. The research is also intended to enhance the accessibility of the Ensor subcollection.
Theoretical and Art-Historical Perspectives
The museum's Ensor project combines two approaches. The first perspective consists in research into the theoretical foundations of the artistic choices that Ensor made. The focal points in this line of research are the reception of Ensor's work by art critics and art historians and a ‘close reading’ of Ensor's published and unpublished writings. The second approach is that of traditional art-historical research into the primary sources (archival materials), as well as the iconographic (the meaning of the images), technical and stylistic characteristics of Ensor's oeuvre. The results of occasional material-technical research involving X-ray and infrared photography or the Portable X-ray Fluorescence Spectrometer are also incorporated into the research results.
Ensor Research Then and Now
The Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp has contributed substantially to the body of knowledge about the life and work of James Ensor. Former Museum Directors Dr. Walther Vanbeselaere and Dr. Lydia Schoonbaert, and curator Prof. Dr. Marcel De Maeyer, all played an important role in this respect, either through the exhibitions that they organised or through their publications devoted to Ensor. In 2004, KMSKA took the initiative to organise a series of exhibitions in Spain, Japan, Mexico, Belgium and the Netherlands highlighting different aspects of the Ensor collection. This also created an opportunity for the museum to collect new data and develop fresh insights, including in relation to the circles Ensor belonged to during his training at the Fine Arts Academy in Brussels (2004). Other aspects studied were the significance of Hokusai and other Japanese sources of inspiration (2005) for Ensor's work and the manner in which he made use of studies from life models and copies from contemporaries. The crucial influence of Ensor's great examples Francisco Goya and Odilon Redon was elucidated in a special exhibition in 2009: Goya, Redon, Ensor. Grotesque Paintings and Drawings . At the same time, the museum collaborated intensively to Ensor Exhibitions in Wuppertal (Von der Heydt-Museum), New York (The Drawing Centre & MoMA), Paris (Musée d'Orsay) and The Hague (Gemeentemuseum).
Step by step, the research project will contribute to the publication of various subcatalogues of the drawings (1873-80, 1880-85, 1885-1900, 1900-49), documents and archival materials, as well as the thirty-seven paintings by Ensor in the KMSKA collection. Together with Ensor experts form other institutions, the researchers of KMSKA also prepared the launch of the new virtual Ensor museum of the Flemish Art Collection.
Download the list of relevant publications by museum staff (PDF, 70,1 kB).