James Ensor, Old Lady with Masks (Theater of Masks), 1889


Old Lady with Masks is painted at the highpoint of Ensor’s so-called fantastic period, also indeed called his mask period. Originally the artist made the painting on assignment. However, after the painting was rejected, Ensor transformed it to an abundant masquerade, in which the short perspective and layering of the figures strengthen the dramatic tension. The portrayed woman is presumably Neel Doff, the Dutch writer and publicist. The soft radiance of the older woman contrasts greatly with the grim masks and the sinister skull that surround her. The aggressive, contrasting colour spectrum of vivid reds and greens emphasises the threatening character of the mocking masks. This alienating thematic, the use of the pure, vivid colours and the heavily applied layering shall remain characteristics of Ensor’s oeuvre from this time onwards.

Source:  James Ensor Online Museum – an initiative of the Flemish Art Collection