From self portrait to painting skeleton


The Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp (KMSKA) is launching the Ensor Research Project. The museum aspires to becoming the leading centre of expertise in art-historical and material technical research into the oeuvre of James Ensor.

The research focus of the project is on the creative process, from the conception to the realisation, of Ensor’s paintings. The expertise acquired will be complemented with research on paintings in other public and private collections in Flanders and Belgium, and it will also be applied to enhance Ensor research carried elsewhere.

James Ensor, Het Schilderend geraamte, KMSKA

Detailopname infraroodopname Het schilderend geraamte

James Ensor aan het werk in zijn atelier


     Above: James Ensor,  The Painting Skeleton, KMSKA 
     Left: Detail infrared image   The Painting Skeleton
     Right: James Ensor working in his studio


Pending further research, some very promising observations have already been made. Contrary to expectations, the 38 paintings in the museum collection offer few examples of spectacular alterations during the painting process. The Painting Skeleton (1896) is nonetheless a striking example of such an alteration, whereby the composition and its meaning were changed quite profoundly. Using pencil, Ensor copied on to a prepared panel a photograph of himself at his easel up in his attic studio in the parental home in Ostend. The self-portrait is clearly discernible in an infrared image. But somewhere during the creative process, the artist decided to overpaint his face with the image of a skull. The reason why he decided to do so in this particular example needs further investigation.

In 2013 and 2014, after five successful exhibitions in Japan, the Ensor collection of KMSKA will be touring some prominent museums in Europe and the United States. The museum will take this new series of foreign exhibitions as an opportunity to intensify its Ensor Research. It will publicise the findings of the Ensor Research Project online in a Scholary Catalogue modeled after the example of the Getty Foundation. The museum is also preparing an exhibition entitled Ensor, Artist at Work.



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