There are approximately 850 paintings known to be by the hand of James Ensor. In technical, iconographical and stylistic respects, Ensor‘s painting oeuvre is extraordinarily diverse.
Before 1887, Ensor often painted very informal, refined realistic studies, seascapes, landscapes, still lifes and modern-genre tableaux. Among these a few undisputed masterpieces are found such as Russian Music (1881), The Oyster-eater (1882) or the Portrait of Willy Finch (1882). In 1887, Ensor chose for a grotesque or satirical depiction of motifs for which he sought inspiration in the Bible, literature, history, contemporary social and artistic life, his personal life, the world of the carnival, commedia dell’arte and ballet. He does this in a contrast-rich and vivid colouration, at times in an expressive design, then at others in a naïve form. He paints but a handful of important landscapes. However, throughout his life Ensor painted a great number of still lifes. Through the introduction of masks, but also by means of a combination of trivial objects, these still lifes obtain a double entendre character.