When the legendary Paris art dealer Mira Jacob, founder of the Galerie Le Bateau Lavoir in Paris, died in 2004, she left behind her private collection of prints by the great Belgian artist James Ensor. That she collected Ensor is no surprise: his sense of the absurd and his irreverent humour can be seen as a direct precursor to the Surrealists she loved and represented in her gallery.
Ten years later, in spring of this year, her heirs entrusted us with her collection. Now and then, we get to see (and occasionally sell) a little etching by Ensor, but now we were suddenly surrounded by over 150 of them, many hand-coloured by the artist.
A Department favourite was an impression of The Deadly Sins dominated by Death. Beautifully hand-coloured in watercolour and gouache, like a precious little miniature, it was Ensor in his essence: macabre, grotesque and wickedly funny.
On the day of the auction, 19 March, the room and the telephone banks were crowded. When this little painted print came up, it quickly surpassed its high estimate of £35,000 and the auctioneer fielded bids from all directions. The hammer came down finally at £110,000 — the highest price ever paid for a print by the artist.