The Ostend museum Mu.ZEE under the guidance of Director-Conservator Phillip Van den Bossche has purchased James Ensor's work, Les Masques et la Mort. The work of art, a gouache, chalk and pastel on paper, was heretofore in a private collection. The previous owner thought it important that after such a sale, the work of art would be assimilated into the public sphere in an accessible museum collection.
Mu.ZEE paid 190.000 euro for the work. The museum, which possesses an extensive and varied collection of Ensor, did not currently have any works of art by Ensor on which masks were portrayed. Les Masques et la Mort thus brings about a change to this situation. The dimensions of this work are exceptional. Normally, Ensor's drawings are quite a bit smaller. The work of art is now to be seen in the wing of masterpieces of the museum.
Les Masques et la Mort portrays a group of masked characters who encircle Death. In one hand, Death holds a violin, and in the other an extinguished candle. In the air, two skeletons are aloft, armed with sickles, which come dangerously close to a balloon with a human face. Some of the masked figures seem to be fascinated by the extinguished candle of Death, on whose face, a broad smile is to be seen.
The motif of the masks was reproduced in 1995 by the Belgian National Bank on the 100 Belgian Franc note. For this occasion, the National Bank organised an exhibition from 20 October through 17 December at which Les Masques et la Mort was to be seen.
In 1898, James Ensor exhibited for the first time in Paris at the Salon des Cent. On the occasion of this event, La Plume published a special edition, fully dedicated to James Ensor. On the cover of the edition, dated 24 December 1898, a third version of Les Masques et la Mort was featured.
(News item 5 March 2013)