Ostend (dpa) - masks that appear and disappear; Blood dripping on the frame - Belgian painter James Ensor loved the bizarre and painted people behind masks.

The newly opened James Ensor house in Ostend, Belgium, now wants to look behind the mask of the artist as an experience center, whose life and work are still full of mysteries to this day.

Ensor was born on April 13, 1860 in the Belgian seaside resort, where he died on November 19, 1949 at the age of 89. From 1917 until his death, he lived and worked in the house. From 1952 it was used as a museum by the Association of Friends of James Ensor. It has been co-managed by the Mu.ZEE art museum since 2008. After around two and a half years of renovation, it has now been expanded to include a two-story adventure center.

The Anne Frank House in Amsterdam was inspired, explains Wim Vanseveren, strategic consultant for the project and former head of the Flemish tourism department. The newly opened museum is located in the middle of the city and is only a few meters from the kilometer-long beach.

Grimaces, skulls, little monsters, skeletons and carnivalesque masks again and again: Who was James Ensor, whom art science assigned to symbolism and regarded as a forerunner of expressionism?

Ensor presented himself in numerous self-portraits, as the car portraits digitized in the reception area show in an endless loop: as a 19-year-old standing confidently in front of the easel, as a complacent man with a flower-decorated woman's hat and finally as a skeleton. The self-portraits reflect Ensor's diverse and elusive works: sometimes realistic, poetic, sometimes mocking, macabre and cartoonistic.

Ensor designed most of his works in the attic of his parents' house. His studio set up there is now replicated in the newly opened museum on a scale of 1: 2. In the smallest space he painted his largest and most powerful work with 2.52 by 4.3 meters: «The Entry of Christ in Brussels». In his entirety, he had only seen the picture that is now in the Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles when he moved to what is now the Ensor House in 1917.

The monumental painting from 1889 hangs as a reproduction in the blue hall of the Ensor House, which could largely be preserved as it was during the artist's lifetime. The picture is full of people, full of skulls and masks in screeching colors; and in the midst of this mass Christ. What does the picture express? It is Ensor's social criticism of the conceited bourgeoisie, the limp people, the stupid scholars and the absurd world, as he once wrote about the masterpiece.

Ensor had inherited the house where he lived with his servant August Van Yper from his uncle. It was a shell and curio shop. The painter left the shop window display and the showcases with their bizarre display pieces unchanged. Everywhere you will find masks, shells and stuffed sea animals. Some are even said to have the prices from earlier.

The strange environment had a lasting influence on the painter. The skeleton-like figure, which is still sitting at the table in the blue salon, is reminiscent of the picture "Skeleton Chinoiserie contemplating" that is now in the collections of the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum in Cologne.

© dpa-infocom, dpa: 200806-99-63958 / 2

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