Of Masks and Men: James Ensor At Gladstone Gallery

View of “James Ensor: An Intimate Portrait,” 2021–22, at Gladstone Gallery.PHOTO DAVID REGEN/COURTESY GLADSTONE GALLERY

“James Ensor: An Intimate Portrait” is a welcome, if somewhat misconceived exhibition of works by fin de siècle Belgium’s most beloved oddball. Save the appealingly modest scale of the works included in the show, the portrait of Ensor presented at Gladstone Gallery in New York is familiar, not intimate.

By familiar, I mean first that the show and its accompanying catalogue deliver few surprises. This is not a criticism. Curator Sabine Taevernier has hung a representative sampling of the artist’s work, nearly thirty pictures in various mediums and genres, “mainly from the period 1888–1896, eight years during which the artist created the quintessence of his work.” Also on view are four grotesque painted masks from Ensor’s studio, of the kind a tourist might have purchased at his family’s Ostend curio shop, and images of which populate some of his best-known paintings. Anyone previously unfamiliar with Ensor will leave the gallery with a textbook understanding of his peculiar aesthetic sensibility and range—here, he paints a little still life of fruit in nacreous oil tints, and there, he etches a gothic, Poe-inspired fantasia.

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