James Ensor House – Ostend, Belgium - Atlas Obscura

James Ensor House

The former home of a trailblazing surrealist is still filled with haunting dolls and grim paintings. 


Update 06/19: The museum is currently closed for renovations.

An eccentric artist who focused on subjects both grim and religious, James Ensor was a pioneer among expressionist and surrealist artists, and the home where he spent his final years is now a museum set up to look like visitors are stepping into his mind. 

Originally owned by Ensor’s aunt and uncle, the storefront of the house was operated as a shop the sold souvenirs and seashell crafts from the local shores. Ensor inherited the home from his relatives and took up residence in later in life and would spend 40 years living and working in the home. After Ensor’s death in 1945 the house fell into disrepair and was even under consideration for demolition until 1973 when the city of Oostende decided to restore the site instead. 

Today the Ensor Museum features three distinct rooms that highlight a part of the artist’s life. The front of the museum is preserved as the curio and gift shop Ensor’s aunt and uncle had run. In this room visitors can see various displayed shellfish and creepy fiji mermaids among other knick-knacks. The second floor features a recreated parlor from Ensor’s home with a reproduction of the artist’s The Entry of Christ into Brussels taking up an entire wall of the chaotic room. Sinister, hand-made doll heads dot the room, and a life less doll figure sits at the center table. The final display at the museum is Ensor’s “Blue Room” where he created many of is most famous works. 

Ensor may not be the most famous artist in the Western canon but he is clearly Oostende’s favorite son, no matter how creepy his house is.

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