Ostend gears up for opening of James Ensor House and Experience Centre


The fully renovated James Ensor House in Ostend will re-open with a flourish next year, boasting a complete restoration and a new Experience Centre

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Anyone wanting to visit the house in Ostend where painter James Ensor lived for the last 32 years of his life will be disappointed; it has been closed for renovations for the last two years. But the city is entering the final stretch in a project that will not only see a completely restored Ensor House but a brand new Experience Centre.

Apart from a few years studying in Brussels, Ensor – a pioneer in surrealism and symbolism – lived the whole of his life in the coastal city. It greatly influenced his work, not only in sea- and landscape impressionism but also in 19th-century interiors and still-lifes – in which objects sold in his mother’s souvenir shop played a part.

He is best known today for his skeleton-laden vanitas and grotesque carnival-goers, and both themes will play a large part in the restored building, which opens next May. “The house is located right in the heart of Ostend on Vlaanderenstraat, just a few steps from the house where he grew up,” says the city in a statement. “The museum will consist of both the original James Ensor House and a new interactive Experience Centre, housed in the space next door.”

The new structure
will be split into five themed rooms that look at different periods in Ensor’s long and productive career. “It gives visitors extra insight into Ensor’s complex world,” says the city. “If you’ve ever wanted to put yourself inside an Ensor painting, now you can.”

The Ostend museum Mu.Zee has a wing dedicated to Ensor and its other homegrown symbolist, Léon Spilliaert. There is also an Ensor Walk that takes visitors to sites important to the artist.

To celebrate the opening of the restored house and Experience Centre, the city will host other Ensor-related activities in 2020, and special holiday packages will be offered to visitors. The timing is good: Flanders is in the middle of a three-year cultural programme dedicated to the Flemish Masters.

“The past two years that have been focused on the rich history of Flanders and the Flemish Masters have seen great success,” says tourism minister Zuhal Demir. “I want to continue down this path and widen it even further, from Limburg to West Flanders. The James Ensor House is a perfect example of the direction in which I want to go.”

The budget for the entire project is €3.6 million, with half coming from Visit Flanders, €125,000 from the province of West Flanders and the rest from the city of Ostend. Works are being carried out by Monument Vandekerckhove based on a design by noA Architecten.

Photo: Architectural renderings of the new James Ensor House and Experience Centre
©City of Ostend