Dreams of mother-of-pearl. The Ensor collection of KMSKA in Ostend.


Date 12/05/2018 - 16/06/2019

After 10 years, the Ensor collection of the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp is once again visible, not in Antwerp, but in Ostend, the hometown of James Ensor. In recent years the Antwerp Ensor collection has been exhibited in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Tokyo, Basel, Copenhagen and Utrecht, and now in Mu.ZEE in Ostend!

Ensor is one of only a handful of Belgian artists whose work is also considered to be internationally important. Museums, collectors and enthusiasts from all over the world are fascinated by his groundbreaking art. Ensor was a game changer. But all too often, the artworks themselves are overshadowed by the popular myth: that of a strange, misanthropic eccentric who sat behind his piano in his Ostend shell shop.

The innovative nature of Ensor’s paintings, etchings and drawings is the direct result of his desire to explore, in an almost systematic way, the most diverse techniques, genres and modes of representation. He defended his pursuit of artistic diversity, and the search for various stylistic, iconographic or technical alternatives, until advanced old age. Only in this way could an artist succeed in transporting his audience, and that was the ultimate goal for Ensor.


Imago skelet


Three thematic ensembles

In order to do justice to both the immense diversity and underlying artistic coherence of his oeuvre, Ensor’s works will be shown in three thematic ensembles.

Landscapes and fantastic compositions in which the artist searches for sublime images. Quasi-abstract evocations of the luminous mists above the sea, the teeming chaos of The Fall of the Rebellious Angels who do battle with the elements, the childlike, fairy-tale procession of a brass band through the streets of Ostend, the spectacular Expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Earthly Paradise, and the mysterious silence over the roofs of the houses in Ostend.

From 1880 to 1941, Ensor painted around 700 canvases, more than a third of which are still lifes. For Ensor’s friend, the poet-critic Emile Verhaeren, even The Oyster Easter was first and foremost a monumental still life. This painting is therefore central to the ensemble of still lifes painted between 1880 and the 1930s.

Ensor’s contemporaries considered his depictions of young bourgeois women in interiors as a tribute to the intimate charm and domesticity of their world. But ‘the woman’ is also the protagonist in grotesque masquerades such as The Astonishment of the Mask Wouse or Skeletons Fighting for the Body of a Hanged Man.

The Ensor Research Project

In 2013, the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp (KMSKA) launched the Ensor Research Project (ERP), whereby the master’s paintings are studied using advanced imaging techniques. The ERP team has recently been expanded to include members of staff from Mu. ZEE. Until now, the investigations have focused on the collections of paintings belonging to the KMSKA, Mu. ZEE, the Museum of Fine Arts in Ghent (MSK) and a private collection. The first results of this research will be incorporated into the new Ensor presentation.

Practical information

Dreams of mother-of-pearl. 
The Ensor collection of KMSKA in Ostend. 


Mu.ZEE Romestraat 11, 8400 Ostend


From May 12 to June 16, 2019 
Tuesday – Sunday: 10.00u. – 18.00u.
Closed on Monday

More info:



Museum offices

Lange Kievitstraat 111-113 bus 100, B-2018 Antwerpen

T +32 (0)3 224 95 50