Text topic: Studies
Text author: Дијана Метлић
In this paper I will discuss the artistic oeuvre of James Ensor, focusing my attention on the significance of the mask motif and the importance of disguising in his self-portraits. As one of the most influential Belgian painters, graphic artists and caricaturists of the second half of the nineteenth century, he received recognition for his work relatively late, after he had already completed the most important part of his extensive opus, entering into the sixth decade of his life. Due to his specific attitude towards society and satirical approach to the complex political and cultural situation in Belgium, Ensor was often ignored or openly criticised, which at the time of his greatest productivity (the ninth decade of the nineteenth century) led to uncontrolled public behaviour and complete withdrawal into the solitude of his atelier. Stuck between his wishes and expectations, public ignorance and late fame, Ensor played diverse roles in his self-portraits. He represented himself as a confident artist in youth, as a successor of Dürer and Rubens. Disguised in a controversial iconic appearance, he identified himself with Christ. He saw himself as a martyr or a victim. He often felt like an outsider torn by demons, tormented by skeletons, and haunted by death. In the end, he was a visionary surrounded by masked citizens of his native Ostend, in which he spent his entire life. Creating a unique corpus of self-portraits in which elements of fantasy intertwined with the grotesque and theatrical, Ensor became a missionary of modern art, just like Van Gogh, Gauguin, Schiele, Cézanne. The mask in his oeuvre developed into a key instrument for reassessing identity with an ironic distance from the world in which Ensor lived.