Newly Discovered James Ensor Painting Sells for $1.1 Million at Auction

The market for works by the Belgian painter is perking up.

James Ensor Baptême de masques (1925-1930) Photo courtesy Dorotheum
James Ensor Baptême de masques (1925-1930) Photo courtesy Dorotheum

A fresh to market, previously unknown painting by James Ensor doubled its high estimate and sold for  €1 million ($1.1 million) at Dorotheum in Vienna on Tuesday.

The painting, entitled Baptême de Masques (1925-1930), was first bought by the one-time wife of André Breton, the art dealer Simone Breton and had remained in the family, so there was much anticipation among collectors the when the painting came up for sale.

“It’s a dream,” Patricia Palffy, Dorotheum specialist in Modern art, told artnet News over the phone. “We wish this would happen more often and that more Ensors came onto the market.”

The composition of Baptême de Masques is based on a photograph of Ensor in fancy dress with friends, and featured all the key elements of the work of the Belgian artist, such as pastel colors, a mother of pearl finish, the carnivalesque aesthetic, and the fact that Ensor himself has a cameo in the work.

the photo from which the painting was produced, Ensor is wearing the large busby hat. Photo © Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels / ACAB, Brussels

The photo which inspired the painting. Ensor is wearing the large busby hat. Photo © Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels / ACAB, Brussels.

Competition was fierce, as many hopefuls partook in the auction over the phone to obtain the artwork, which is thought to be the second in a series of three works (with the first being painted in 1891 and the third in 1937).

This painting, made between 1925 and 1930, was completely unknown before it was discovered at the house of the owner, a collector related to Simone Breton who had previously thought it was a fake, rather than the real deal.

The painting was authenticated last October by the Ensor Advisory Committee in Ghent, according to The Art Newspaper.

Although the price reached by the painting was below the artist’s record, which currently stands at €6.2 million ($6.9 million), it doubled its high estimate of €500,000, a high sum especially for a late work by the artist.

“I think there is not a lot of Ensor on the market, and although this work is part of his late production, it blends all the principles of Ensor art,” Palffy told artnet News of the sale. “But, also if you look back over the last few years you can see that the market for Ensor is rising and becoming more international.”

The sale comes ahead of an Ensor retrospective in London, which has been curated by fellow Belgian painter Luc Tuymans. Titled “Intrigue: James Ensor by Luc Tuymans,” the show is slated to open in October 2016 at the Royal Academy of Arts.


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