This archived website ‘James Ensor. An online museum.’ is temporarily not being updated. Certain functionality (e.g. specific searches in the collection) may no longer be available. News updates about James Ensor will appear on Questions about this website? Please contact us at

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)