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Afternoon in Ostend

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James Ensor
Ostend 1860 - Ostend 1949
1881
oil on canvas
108.5 x 132 cm
Inventory number 1852

Early in his career, James Ensor painted a series of genre scenes that are known collectively as The Bourgeois Salon. Like this Afternoon in Ostend, the paintings typically depict one or two persons in a bourgeois interior. Ensor’s younger sister Mariette frequently appears as a model in his work. In this particular canvas, Mitche, as the artist used to call her, is sitting all dressed up at the table of their parental home. The woman beside her is Catharina Haegheman, their mother. But despite the identity of the models and the familiarity of the setting, the painting is conceived as a fictional narrative. It represents a visit by a young bourgeois girl to an older woman. The two are drinking coffee in a dimly lit room with half-drawn curtains. What is the nature of their relationship? What thoughts are going through the young girl’s head? All is left to the viewer’s imagination.

Impressionist?

After this painting, Ensor was labelled an Impressionist by friend and foe alike. But although Ensor was familiar with the fledgling movement of Monet and Renoir, the style in this painting is quite different. While he himself referred to it as ‘an impression’, he always rejected his classification as an Impressionist. He felt that, unlike his French contemporaries, he went beyond registering optical interplay between colour and light.

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