KMSKA purchases a rare drawing by Ensor

James Ensor, Fireplace utensils and masks, Ca. 1880-83 and 1886-89, black chalk on paper, 22,2 x 17,5 cm, Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp. © SABAM Belgium 2015.

The Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp (KMSKA) bought the rare drawing 'Fireplace utensils and masks' by James Ensor at a Brussels auction. It deals with one of the famous ‘hybrid' drawings of which only a dozen or so are known. They belong to his most innovative drawings.

The KMSKA possesses the richest and most representative Ensor collection in the world. A drawing such as this one, sold at auction by Brussels Art Auctions, was still lacking though.

The drawing is half realistic and half surreal: the right side depicts a skillet and a waffle iron on the side of a stove and corresponds with the series of realistic studies that Ensor made around 1880-83. Later, around 1886-89, the artist filled up the empty left side of the page with a variety of grotesque motifs: a mask with a pig's snout, a bird's head and caricatures. KSMKA curator and Ensor specialist Herwig Todts said: ‘As a result of these additions, the meaning of the image changes. It demonstrates that on the eve of the break-through of Modernism Ensor was searching how the visual arts could free themselves from the Western European realistic tradition.'

Of this sort of drawings there are only about a dozen known. A few of them are in museums (The Art Institute of Chicago, inter alia), and a few of them are in private collections. It was from one such private collection that the KMSKA purchased the work.

'Fireplace utensils and masks' (black chalk on paper, 22,2 x 17,5cm) sold at auction for € 55.000. The KMSKA paid the sum with money that it raised via its own income, sponsorship and gifts.

Flemish Minister of Culture, Sven Gatz said: ‘I am very pleased that the KMSKA was able to acquire this key piece and thus be able to fill such a lacuna in its already excellent Ensor collection.'

(News item October 8, 2015)