Rare James Ensor Painting Sells for $7.84 Million, Breaking Two Records

The highest price paid for Ensor, it's also the most expensive painting sold in France in 2016.

James Ensor, Squelette arretant masques (1891). Photo courtesy Sotheby’s / Art digital studio.
James Ensor, Squelette arretant masques (1891). Photo courtesy Sotheby’s / Art digital studio.

The market of the Belgian painter James Ensor is having quite a year. On December 7, during the impressionist and modern sale at Sotheby’s Paris, an 1891 painting by Ensor titled Squelette arrêtant masques (Skelettons Arresting Masqueraders) sold for €7.4 million ($7.84 million), setting a new record price for the artist.

The work also broke the record for the most expensive painting sold in France in 2016.

According to a release from the auction house, 15 international collectors bid for the work, with the hammer price finally smashing its highest pre-sale estimate of €1.5 million.

The artnet Price Database shows that Ensor’s previous record was set at $6.97 million, for the work Les poissardes mélancoliques, which sold at Sotheby’s New York in November, 2015.

Squelette arrêtant masques was recently discovered in Ostend, as part of the private collection of an influential local family, according to Flandre Info.

The small painting, measuring 33 x 35 centimeters, shows classic Ensor themes; his oeuvre had a strong focus on skeletons and masks, which he painted in scenes of social satire full of irony and sinister humor.

The rise in Ensor’s market—who was, until recently, considered an artist’s artist—is coinciding with a major exhibition of his work currently on view at the Royal Academy in London. The show, which has been curated by fellow Belgian painter Luc Tuymans, has garnered rave reviews.

This past June, another previously unknown, later painting by Ensor doubled its highest estimate and sold for €1 million ($1.1 million) at Dorotheum in Vienna.

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


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