James Ensor, Belgian Artist


Ensor House, Ostend 
Slides removed at the request of SABAM, a Belgian copyright collective representing reproduction rights for the estates of these artists, exclusively represented in the U.S. by VAGA, New York.
Commentary -- Jeffery W. Howe, Boston College, 1998:
Realism intersected with Symbolism in the allegorical pictures of James Ensor (1860-1949).  His most famous picture, The Entry of Christ into Brussels of 1888, was recently sold to the Getty Art Museum in Malibu; previously it had been on a long term loan to the City Art Museum in his home town of Ostend.  A thorough cleaning and restoration has revealed the full vibrancy of this picture.  The Entry of Christ into Brussels shows a satirical view of the second coming of Christ.  A controversial painting, it was listed at the 1889 catalog for Les XX, but was not shown.  In fact, it was not shown publically until 1929.(1)

The Enrty of Christ into Brussels is a very large painting, in bright, even garish colors, painted in a deliberately crude style.  Ensor aggressively challenged the rules of perspective and even good taste in this picture.  Most people are shown wearing masks that can not be distinguished from their true faces.  Ensor reasoned that if Christ were to return to earth, modern commercial and political interests would certainly try to co-opt the event.  Although Christ has been given a parade in his honor, and he is shown entering Brussels on the back of a donkey as he entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, he is almost lost in the crowd.  The mayor of Brussels (at upper right, with the cane and sash) seems to be trying to use the event for his advantage.  Ensor identified with the martyred Christ, and he used his own features for the face of Christ.  In its free use of color and space and brushwork to enhance the psychological impact, Ensor's work paved the way for Expressionism in the twentieth century.

 Ensor kept The Entry of Christ into Brussels with him throughout his life, and as with many of his paintings, he made a number of alterations to it.  An etched version of the subject from 1898 shows the of the banners and posters more clearly.  Corporate and political advertising banners are given great prominence.  Slogans for the socialist party and Colman's mustard are also included.

The texts shown in the print include many contemporary social issues mixed in with adversisements:

VIVE JESUS ET LES REFORMES (Long live Jesus and the reforms)
COLMAN'S MUSTART (Colman's mustard)
VIVE DENBIJN (Long live Denbijn)
MOUVEMENT FLAMAND (Flemish movement)
LES VIVISECTEURS BELGES INSENSIBLES LES XX (The insensitive Belgian vivisectors Les XX -- Ensor was an ardent anti-vivisectionist, and had many resentments about his treatment by Les XX)
VIVE LA SOCIALE (Long live the Sociale, or Long live welfare)
FANFARES DOCTRINAIRES TOUJOUR REUSSI (Doctrinaire fanfares always succeed)
LES  CHARCUTIERS DE JERUSALEM (The butchers of Jerusalem)
SALUT JESUS ROI DE BRUXELLES (Greetings to Jesus, King of Brussels)
PHALANGE WAGNER FRACASSANT (Noisy Wagner Army -- Ensor detested the music of Wagner)
LA SAMARIE RECONNAISSANTE (The grateful samaritan)
VIVE ANSEELE ET JESUS (Long live Anseele and Jesus -- Anseele was a Flemish socialist leader)


notes:
(1) See Stephen C. McGough, James Ensor's "The Entry of Christ into Brussels in 1889", New York:  Garland Press,  1985.