Ostend honors James Ensor with multi-faceted city festival

Sep 29, 2023

In 2024 it will be 75 years since artist James Ensor died in Ostend, the city where he lived and worked all his life. For nine months, his hometown of Ostend will honor the artist with a multi-faceted city festival. Six exhibitions in Mu.ZEE, the James Ensor House, Fort Napoleon and the Venetian Galleries form the backbone of a cultural high year. With no fewer than 100 activities on tap, the entire city is bathed in Ensor atmosphere.

Six exhibitions form backbone of multi-faceted city festival

The Ensor year kicks off on Dec. 16 with the exhibition Rose, Rose, Rose à mes yeux! - James Ensor and Still Life in Belgium 1830 - 1930 at Mu.ZEE. It is the first exhibition ever devoted entirely to Ensor's still lifes. The exhibition shows how Ensor interpreted and further evolved the 19th-century still life.

During the first weekend, the kid-friendly DIY expo Great Art for Little Connoisseurs, based on the children's book, will also open its doors at Fort Napoleon. It will be a renewed collaboration with Thaïs Vanderheyden (Spiekpietjes). The expo introduces children to the Grand Master in a surprisingly original way. Young and old can indulge in an interactive quest that creatively helps them better understand the world of James Ensor.

The James Ensor House also plays an important role during Ensor 2024. Visitors there can wander into the artist's mind and discover the house where he lived and worked for many years. In addition, three temporary exhibitions are running, each highlighting a particular aspect of Ensor. Naturally, Self-Portraits cannot be missing. During the summer months, The Entry of Christ into Brussels in 1889 is running. 'The Entry' is Ensor's international masterpiece. Unfortunately, it has belonged to the collection of the Getty Museum in L.A. since 1987 and will never return. But the Ensor House houses a full-size copy exactly where the original hung, in the Blue Salon. A special summer exhibition provides pointers to its many striking details. The second half of the year runs Satire, Parody, Pastiche. Indeed, quite a few of Ensor's works are characterized by humor, satire and caricature.

During the summer months, the Venetian Galleries will host the exhibition Ostend, Ensor's Imaginary Paradise. Discover the unique connection between James Ensor and his birthplace Ostend. As Ostend developed as a tourist and cultural destination to become the Queen of seaside resorts, Ensor developed his artistic skills and vision there. Not only his art, but also his life is intertwined with the city of Ostend. When his "imaginary paradise" is threatened, the activist in Ensor awakens.

Today, we present a very ambitious project that calls upon the overwhelming creative energy that Ostend has attracted and nurtured in recent years. We look forward to attracting both national and international visitors to explore and experience the city. And all in the city where the artist has spent his entire life and created his masterpieces.
Mayor of Ostend Bart Tommelein

More than 80 initiatives help shape the city festival

More than just a museum event, the Ensor Year is a multifaceted urban festival that highlights various facets of James Ensor.

"We don't want just any activities," was the call for the Ostend City Festival. "Ensor was a fascinating, surprising, innovative, provocative, satirical, . artist. His rich personality contains enough facets to inspire people even today. This really doesn't have to be 'one-to-one,' on the contrary: let your imagination work, as his did. We are open to anything that, broadly interpreted, respects Ensor's spirit."

At its core was a close collaboration with key sectors such as arts, culture, tourism, commerce and hospitality. A dedicated steering committee composed of representatives from these sectors created a diverse program that reflected the city's versatility.

The enthusiasm of many arts and cultural organizations, individual artists, merchants, hospitality operators and associations makes it a unique event. They help put their backs into the city festival with high-profile events, experiences and exhibits.

With the Baths of Ostend we want to implant the DNA of James Ensor in every inhabitant of Ostend and at the same time show tourists that Ostend is the only Ensor city. I am also proud that many Ostend cultural associations, schools, but also the youth associations took up the challenge and will show a lot of beautiful projects. We succeeded in making the Ensor year also a participative project.
Alderman of Culture, Bart Plasschaert.


In addition to the six exhibitions mentioned, there are about 20 others, with very different perspectives. For example, Mike Louagie and Lien De Ruyck are staging an interactive photo exhibition, exploring the lesser-known interfaces and fields of tension between two mythical Belgian figures, James Ensor and Adrien de Gerlache.

Five Ostend galleries are joining forces for an "Influensored" project, spotlighting contemporary artists who reflect on Ensor's spiritual legacy.

Art in public space

You can't ignore Ensor in public spaces either. For example, the new edition of the street art festival The Crystal Ship will be completely bathed in Ensor atmosphere.

On the Station Square, the five-meter high eye-catcher "The Mask of Ensor - Vive" will attract attention. The large bust is a project of Passion4Wood and artist Maxime Van Besien and also the first in Belgium constructed entirely from natural materials, wood and straw.


There are also numerous activities on the calendar for music lovers during the Ensor year. Casco Phil brings three dazzling concerts organized in the magnificent setting of the Kursaal, with music by Ensor, Elgar and a tribute to Caruso.


In the project Het Narrenschip (The Jester Ship), six professional artists and six outsider artists meet, with James Ensor as their shared inspiration. Koen Van Mechelen, Arpaïs Du Bois, Koenraad Tinel and Fred Bervoets, among others, pledged to participate.

Shopping and hospitality

Ostend business owners are honoring their James Ensor. During the Ensor year you can walk out of the store with an Ensor 2024 shopping bag. You can also discover different art forms in many shop windows in an atypical setting, through the walking and cycling circuit 'Elle adore le noir'.

Ostend restaurants are also highlighting the master during Ensor Year. Many chefs are inspired by James Ensor and conjure up a work of art on the plate of the restaurant visitor.

My main conclusion? Ensor died 75 years too soon. He would undoubtedly have appreciated the energy and creativity he is unleashing today in his city of Ostend.
- Wim Vanseveren - intendant Ensor 2024

More details can be obtained at www.ensor2024.be

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