In the introvert world of James Ensor, the still life takes up an important place in his career. The genre responds well to the closed nature of the artist who created his compositions from the intimacy of the bourgeois interior crowded with objects. In his early career the main focus in his still lifes was to use everyday motifs such as vegetables, flowers, meat and fish combined with the shells and other peculiar objects from his mother's souvenir shop. Already as a young boy he developed a passion for these objects. He wrote: "My mother, daughter of Ostend sea-shell traders, continued her parents' trade and I spent my childhood in the paternal shop, surrounded by the curiosities from the sea and the splendours of mother-of-pearl with a thousand iridescent gleams and bizarre skeletons, monsters and marine plants. The proximity of these wonders, the colours, this light-filled, gleaming opulence, undoubtedly helped turn me in to a painter in love with colour and sensitive to the dazzling play of light.' (see: X. Tricot,James Ensor, life and work, the complete paintings, Brussels 2009, p. 13).
In Chou rouge, fruit et masques, Ensor assembles his typically irreverent cast of characters like a hissing chorus around a humble bouquet of flowers, some seasonal fruit and vegetable and a red cabbage in the centre of the composition. In so doing, two perennial themes of his art - the grotesque characters and the commonplace clutter of his home and studio - are conflated in one work, a bewitching riot of abundant colour and tumbling form.
'Hounded by those on my tail,' wrote Ensor, 'I joyfully took refuge in the land of the fools where the mask, with its violence, its brightness and brilliance, reigns supreme. The mask meant to me: freshness of colour, extravagant decoration, wild generous gestures, strident expressions, exquisite turbulence' (quoted in C. Brown (intro.), exh. cat., James Ensor - Theatre of Masks, London, 1997, p. 12).