Portraits: Family and Friends

James Ensor loved to use his family members as models. The artist unveils with a sharp look the typical build and the hidden psychological character of his models. He studied his father, sitting in a chair reading, his live-in grandmother and aunt, his mother and sister and the course of their days in the parental home on the corner of the Vlaanderenstraat and the Van Iseghemlaan in Ostend where the artist's workshop was located on the attic floor: receiving visitors, drinking coffee, sewing, being bored at times. Snoozing models are obviously a gift for Ensor's favourite game of observation and reproduction. They come back quite often in his oeuvre, and are a token of his sympathy and tenderness for the people portrayed. Occasionally Ensor also portrayed his friends, such as Ernest Rousseau. Sometimes the artist combined the models in his etchings with some or other transformation, mostly in the shape of insects. Little Peculiar Figures is a striking example of this. The positioning of the people portrayed conjures up the image of a biological index card. It was Mariette Rousseau, botanist, who had introduced her friend to the insect world.