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Lot 33
James Ensor
Nos deux portraits 16 1/2 x 14 7/8 in (42 x 38 cm)
15 May 2018, 17:00 EDT
New York

Sold for US$396,500 inc. premium

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James Ensor (1860-1949)

Nos deux portraits
signed 'Ensor' (lower left)
oil on panel
16 1/2 x 14 7/8 in (42 x 38 cm)
Painted circa 1905


Augusta Boogaerts, Brussels (acquired from the artist).
Julienne Claes-Boogaerts, Brussels (sister of the above, acquired in 1951).
Marcel Mabille, Rhode-St-Genèse (acquired by 1970).
Alain Mabille, Rhode-St-Genèse.
Private collection (acquired from the above circa 1993 and sold; Christie's, London, 6 February 2006, lot 72).
Private collection, United States (acquired at the above sale).

Antwerp, Cercle Royal Artistique et Littéraire, Le groupe Sélection, July – August 1920, no. 74.
Antwerp, Kunst van Heden, L'Art Contemporain, May – June 1927, no. 245.
Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts, James Ensor, January – February 1929, no. 245.
Brussels, Galerie Georges Giroux, Hommage à James Ensor, October – November 1945, no. 93.
Paris, Galerie du Siècle, Ensor, Peintures-eaux-fortes, June 1948, no. 11 (titled Double Portrait and dated 1908).
Brussels, Maison Haute Boitsfort, 5ème Salon: James Ensor, April – May 1950, no. 30.
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, James Ensor, October 1951, no.56 (illustrated p. 108); this exhibition later traveled to Boston, Institute of Contemporary Art; Cleveland, The Cleveland Museum of Art, & St. Louis, The City Art Museum.
Ostend, Stedelijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, July – August 1960, no. 83.
Brussles, Galerie Isy Brachot, Ensor dans les collections privées, December 1965 – January 1966, no. 27.
Paris, Musée de l'Orangerie, L'Art flamand, d'Ensor à Permeke, February – April 1970, no. 71.
London, Royal Academy of Arts, Ensor to Permeke, Nine Flemish Painters 1880-1950, September – November 1971, no. 135.
Paris, Musée du Petit Palais, James Ensor, April – July 1990, no. 214 (illustrated in color p. 237).
Utrecht, Centraal Museum, James Ensor 1860-1949, Schilderijen, tekeningen en grafik, een selectie uit Belgisch en Nederlands bezit, August – October 1993, no. S40 (illustrated in color p. 92).
Brussels, Galerie Patrick Derom, Ensor, la mort et le charme, un autre Ensor, April – June 1994.
Brussels, Musées royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Ensor, September 1999 – February 2000, no. 148 (illustrated in color p. 211).

J. Ensor, Memoranda 'Nos deux portraits', 1905.
G. le Roy, (titled Portrait de Mlle A.B. and dated 1908), p. 191.
P. Haesaerts, James Ensor, Brussels, 1957, n. n. (illustrated detail p. 151).
P. Haesaerts, James Ensor, New York, 1959, no. 5 & no. 372 (illustrated detail p. 151 & listed p.381).
F.C. Legrand, Ensor cet inconnu, Brussels, 1971, no. 196 (illustrated in color p. 28).
G. Ollinger-Zinque, Ensor by himself, Brussels, 1976, no. 83 (illustrated p. 136).
G. Ollinger-Zinque, Ensor, een zelfportret, Brussels, 1977, no. 83.
J. Janssens, James Ensor, Naefels, 1978 (illustrated in color p. 88).
R. Delevoy, Ensor, Antwerp, 1981, no. 303 (illustrated in color p. 383).
D. Lesko, James Ensor, The Creative Years, Princeton, 1985, p. 147 (illustrated fig. 110).
X. Tricot, James Ensor, Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, vol. II, 1902-1941,
Antwerp, 1992, no. 397 (illustrated p. 408).
F.C. Legrand, Ensor, la mort et le charme, un autre Ensor, Antwerp, 1993, pl. 33 (illustrated p. 46 & in color p. 167).
X. Tricot, James Ensor, The Complete Paintings, Brussels, 2009, no. 412 (illustrated in color p. 333).

Painted circa 1905, Nos deux portraits is a rare double portrait of the artist and his close companion Augusta Boogaerts. Augusta was the daughter of an Ostend hotel owner and a salesgirl at the Ensor family's souvenir shop. She met Ensor in 1888 while working for his family's business, and remained his close companion for over sixty years. According to Paul Haesaerts, fellow Belgian artist and friend, Augusta was "Caustic, an alert observer, with an enigmatic smile forever on her lips, she was capable of unexpectedly sharp repartee, which made her attractive, but also a bit awesome" (P. Haesaerts, op. cit., p. 211). Nicknamed La Sirène (The Mermaid) by Ensor, Ensor's family never approved of the relationship and the two never married or lived together. Instead, Augusta took on the role of an unofficial business and studio manager. She supervised Ensor's production and arranged many of his still-lifes composed of trinkets, shells and skulls. Ensor wrote Augusta's initials A.B. in his sketchbook where he reproduced all his paintings, further indicating that she had great influence over his still-life compositions.

According to Gisèle Ollinger-Zinque, more than one third of Ensor's paintings are still lifes, a testament not only to his lifelong interest in the subject, but also the influence of Augusta on this important genre. "The still life enabled Ensor throughout his career to develop new pictorial techniques, to explore possible compositions and to create new things of his own. Right to the very end, it provided him with a compliant subject that offered an infinite variety of technical possibilities, ranging from realism by way of naturalism and Impressionism to the diaphanous colors and undulating lines of Art Nouveau. The still life genre highlights the evolution of Ensor's oeuvre, helping us to make out a succession of different periods, each summed up in a handful of key works" (G. Ollinger-Zinque, Ensor (exhibition catalogue), Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels, 1999, p. 32).

Ensor's self-portrait with his forbidden companion is widely regarded to be among his most successful portrait compositions from his mature oeuvre. In pursuit of subjects for his art, Ensor saw the otherwise mundane experiences of life as a constant source of inspiration. Due to the verboten nature of their relationship, Ensor was known to take Augusta to hotels to spend private time with one another. The present composition was likely conceived during one of their hotel visits. Ensor's clever arrangement of the pictorial scene reveals the artist himself seated in the same room as his companion, while simultaneously confronting the viewer through the mirrored armoire situated behind Augusta. Ensor's pioneering style in the present work marked by a freedom of color and technical innovation, brings the composition close to Manet. This playful use of reflection in the present work recalls Manet's masterpiece, Le bar aux Folies-Bergère. The manipulation of compositional space through the placement of a mirror and its reflection is a clear homage to Manet and a subtle hint at the artist's illicit relationship with Boogaerts. Le bar aux Folies-Bergère depicts a barmaid named Suzon whose lower-class occupation can be compared with Boogaerts whom Ensor's sister and mother never approved of as a suitable match due to her lesser social standing.

Nos deux portraits is one of four portraits Ensor painted of his companion, August Boogaerts. According to art historian and Ensor scholar Paul Haesaerts, the present work "stands out remarkably from the rest" (P. Haesaerts, op. cit. p. 213). Of the four compositions, the present work is the most psychologically charged. Discussing Ensor's relationship with Boogaerts, Diane Lesko noted the tension between the two companions, "She is shown fully dressed, with her gloves on, a fur stole in her lap, and a large flowered hat on her head. The hint of a smile is evident as she looks towards the window at the left edge of the painting. In her right hand she holds a flower; flowers also lie at her feet, seemingly having fallen from a vase on the table... There is a sense of light intrigue here, of clandestine moments stolen by unmarried lovers. Despite the painting's charm, however, the portrait hints at a psychic and physical distance that exists and will remain between the lovers: their heads and bodies are turned in opposite directions and Ensor has further distanced himself from Augusta by portraying his image as across the room, reflected in the glass of a mirrored wardrobe" (D. Lesko, op. cit., pp. 147-48).

The presence of flowers in the double portrait is twofold. The flower in Augusta's hand can be seen as metaphor for her sexuality, devotion, passion or loyalty, while the vase of flowers and the petals that have fallen to the floor highlights the importance of ephemera in Ensor's art. "Anyone who surprised Ensor at work upstairs would see him emerge from a clutter of disparate objects: masks, rags, withered branches, shells, cups, pots, worn-out rugs, books littering the floor, prints piled up on chairs, empty frames standing stacked against the furniture, and the inevitable skull surveying the scene with two vacant sockets and no eyes. A friendly layer of dust lies over these innumerable strange objects, protecting them from the clumsy movements of visitors. They are waiting for the painter to breathe life into them, to make them speak, and, thanks to the sympathy he has with them and the eloquence he discerns in their silence, to introduce them into his paintings" stated Emile Verhaeren in 1908 (quoted in Emile Verhaeren, Sur James Ensor, Brussels, 1990).

The present work is distinguished by its important early provenance and extensive exhibition history. Nos deux portraits was exhibited in Ensor's first retrospective exhibition in 1929 at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels and has since been exhibited throughout Europe and North America. The first owner of Nos deux portraits was Augusta Boogaerts herself, who left the painting to her sister Julienne Boogaerts (wife of M. Claes) upon her death in 1951. Julienne Boogaerts had one son who later sold a large portion of the family collection of works by Ensor to Christian Fayt, a Belgian gallerist who owned a gallery in Knokke-Le Zoute on the Belgian Coast.

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