The painter's father, James Frederic Ensor (1835-1887), studied engineering in England and Germany and married Maria Catherina Haegheman (1835-1915) in Ostend. He was a cultivated man who showed much support for the artistic aspirations of his son, though he never felt at home in Ostend and eventually became an alcoholic. Ensor's mother ran a shop where she sold souvenirs, chinoiseries, and masks, objects that would often appear in his work. Ensor was very close to his only sister, Maria Carolina Emma (called Mitche), whom he portrayed repeatedly. In 1876 he enrolled at the Ostend Academy and painted mainly seascapes. In 1877 he entered the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Brussels, where Fernand Khnopff (1858-1921) was a fellow student. Two years later he was introduced to the Rousseau-Hannon family by Théo Hannon (1851-1917), a painter, poet, and art critic. In 1880 Ensor returned to Ostend where he set up a studio in his parents' house, but he went frequently to Brussels in order to visit the Rousseaus. He started exhibiting regularly in 1881, though his work was often criticized or rejected. In 1882 Ensor became a member of the art society L'essor and one year later cofounded the avant-garde group Les XX (Les vingt). He was much dismayed by the dominance of French art in Belgium and in particular by the success of Seurat's (q.v.) pointillist style. The death of his father in 1887 meant that Ensor had to assume the role of head of the household, which aggravated his financial difficulties. In 1888 he started working on his masterpiece The Entry of Christ into Brussels in 1889 (J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles). In this forceful manifesto against Belgian society, Ensor identified with Christ as a gravely misunderstood individual. That same year he met Augusta Boogaerts (1870-1951), whom he called "La Sirène," and they became lifelong friends. His mother was vehemently opposed to their marriage, which therefore never happened, even after her death. In 1893 Les XX disbanded despite Ensor's objection, and La Libre Esthétique replaced it as the avant-garde artistic organization. Ensor was not granted full membership, however, and in an act of despair he unsuccessfully tried to sell all his work for BF 8,500. In 1894 he exhibited with La Libre Esthétique and founded the Cercle des Beaux-Arts d'Ostende. He became more appreciated around this time; he had his first solo show in Brussels in 1894, and a few months later the state bought The Lamp-lighter for the Musées Royaux de Beaux-Arts in Brussels. An exhibition in 1898 at La Plume in Paris, however, was a fiasco. With a few exceptions, his work after 1900 is now generally little valued, although official recognition came at that time. In 1903 he received the title of Knight in the Order of Leopold, and in 1929, the year of a major retrospective in Brussels, he was granted the title of baron. Besides working as a painter, draftsman, and printmaker, he also became involved with music and theater.