To create his still lifes, one of his favourite genres, Ensor would place objects on the table, the mantelpiece and other items of furniture in his studio, thereby transformed into a highly personal universe that nourished his painting. In this canvas, produced when he was over seventy and characterised by its impasto and intense use of colour, two female figures—the Virgin and the mondaine—confront one another set against a bright neutral ground, a window or a mirror perhaps.
Ensor was born in the coastal town of Ostende, famous for its carnival, a town in which he would spend most of his life. His family ran a curio and souvenir shop that sold seashells, masks, vases and china. Ensor's solitary nature was no doubt influenced by his upbringing: his father was both a learned man and an alcoholic who died young, leaving an environment that was exclusively female, while his mother was a conventional middle-class woman with a strong temperament. Ensor's main source of inspiration stemmed from the people and the objects closest to him, although other interests included Flemish grotesque painting and masks, which would strongly influence the work of Gutiérrez Solana. The breaking up of form by light, taken from the Dutch school of painting, and his admiration for Rembrandt, Goya and Turner can also be traced in his oeuvre. After a precocious start, during the last two decades of the 19th century and the early 20th century Ensor was especially active, joining the avant-garde Belgian group Les Vingt and establishing ties with the Spanish painter Darío de Regoyos. [M.G.M.]
Xavier Tricot. James Ensor : catalogue raisonné des peintures. Paris : Le Bibliothèque des Arts, 1992, p. 569, n.º 613.
Marta García Maruri. Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao : guía. Bilbao : Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao = Bilboko Arte Ederren Museoa, 2011 (1ª ed. 2006; ed. inglés; ed. francés; ed. euskera), p. 126, n.º 86, ad vocem.