The Strange Masks (detail), 1892 - Ensor - Framed Picture 11"x14"
James Sidney Edouard, Baron Ensor was a Belgian painter and an important influence on expressionism and surrealism. He was associated with the artistic group "Les XX".
Ensor himself lacked interest in academic study and left school at the age of fifteen to begin his artistic training with two local painters. He attended the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels.
During the late 19th century much of his work was rejected as scandalous, particularly his painting Christ's Entry Into Brussels in 1889 (1888–89), but his paintings continued to be exhibited, and he gradually won acceptance and acclaim.
While Ensor's early works, such as Russian Music (1881) and The Drunkards (1883), depict realistic scenes in a somber style, his palette subsequently brightened and he favored increasingly bizarre subject matter. Such paintings as The Scandalized Masks (1883) and Skeletons Fighting over a Hanged Man (1891) feature figures in grotesque masks inspired by the ones sold in his mother's gift shop for Ostend's annual Carnival.
Subjects such as carnivals, masks, puppetry, skeletons, and fantastic allegories are dominant in Ensor's mature work. Ensor dressed skeletons up in his studio and arranged them in colorful, enigmatic tableaux on the canvas, and used masks as a theatrical aspect in his still lifes.
Ensor turned to religious themes, often the torments of Christ. Ensor interpreted religious themes as a personal disgust for the inhumanity of the world. In 1888 alone, he produced forty-five etchings as well as his most ambitious painting, the immense Christ's Entry Into Brussels in 1889. Also known as Entry of Christ into Brussels, it is considered "a forerunner of twentieth-century Expressionism."
James Ensor is considered to be an innovator in 19th-century art. Although he stood apart from other artists of his time, he significantly influenced such 20th-century artists as Paul Klee, Emil Nolde, George Grosz, Alfred Kubin, Wols, Felix Nussbaum, and others.
A poster of Ensor's Self-Portrait with Flowered Hat (1883) can be seen hanging in the bedroom of Laurie Strode in the 1978 horror film Halloween.