Old Lady with Masks was painted at the height of Ensors so-called fantastic period, also called his mask period. Originally the artist was commissioned to paint this portrait. After the painting was refused, Ensor transformed it into an overly full masquerade, where the short perspective and the heaping up of figures reinforce the dramatic tension. The subject is apparently Neel Doff, the Dutch poetess and publicist. The gentle radiance of the old lady contrasts strongly with the grisly masks and the sinister skull that press in on her. The aggressive, contrasting colouring of bright reds and greens emphasises the threatening nature of the mocking masks.