undulant movement and flickering light


It is not a new thought that the Belgian painter James Ensor—who was born in 1860 and died in 1949—was bewitched by the shimmering, iridescent light of his native Ostend, the resort on the North Sea. The artist himself rhapsodically described his hometown’s pearly and rarely directly sunny light and marine air. At the Museum of Modern Art’s current Ensor retrospective, though, the significance of an atmosphere where light is always indirect, skies seem invariably cloudy and possibly rain-filled, and shadows therefore are rarely densely dark came through with a new force. It was Ensor’s affinity for this whitened, moist, and fleeting atmosphere, one could believe, that lies behind what is most appealing and distinctive about his paintings, drawings, and prints as objects: their often powdery, shifting surfaces and the way his forms—whether he is showing a group of carnival revelers in masks, the roofs of Ostend under a huge sky, or crowds pouring forth on a street—look as if they have only this moment come together (and will in another second move apart).

more from Sanford Schwartz at the NYRB here (my own take on Ensor here).