Saturday, October 4, 2014

Ensor, James

The Intrigue
oil on canvas
90 x 150 cm
Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp, Belgium
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Intrigue depicts the harassment of the James Ensor's sister Mariette and her Chinese fiance by the villagers of Ostend, Belgium. Although this painting was inspired by a specific personal experience, it also makes a profound statement about the ugliness of prejudice and discrimination.

Mariette's romance with Tan Hee Tseu, an art dealer who lived in Berlin, caused a great scandal in the rural town. When Tan appeared in Ostend before the wedding, the villagers plagued the couple with racist gossip.

In Ensor's painting, the figures are placed close to the picture plane as if they are on a stage, dramatically confronting the viewer. Mariette, the blue-haired, green-capped woman, and Tan, the man in the black top hat, are in the center of the crowd. Mariette holds Tan's arm protectively, while he seems to withdraw into the collar of his coat. They are surrounded by grotesque gossipers who, safe in their carnival masks, have come to taunt them. A heckler in the foreground carries a Chinese doll and points an accusing finger at Tan.

Although in some instances masks can be cheerful and festive, in Ensor's work they represent the dark side of human nature. Here they seem to reflect the true personalities of the people who wear them, showing them to be cruel, "ugly" people. However, Mariette and Tan, like their tormentors, are also in masquerade. The mask serves two functions: it can protect the vulnerable and also hide the identity of the vicious.

Rather than depicting things as they actually appear, Ensor creates a sense of fantasy and caricature by exaggerating colors, lines and forms. He contrasts bright colors - reds, blues, greens - with whites, browns, and blacks. This combination of colors creates an intense, vibrant effect. Ensor's nervous brushstrokes move wildly in various directions, adding to the tense mood of the painting. The thickly painted sky is turbulent and full of doom, adding to the uneasy feeling of the crowd.  (excerpts from web)


James Sidney Edouard, Baron Ensor (1860-1949) was a Flemish-Belgian painter, an important influence on expressionism and surrealism who lived in Ostend, Belgian coast city, for almost his entire life. He is considered to be an innovator in 19th century art. Although he stood apart from other artists of his time, he significantly influenced such 20th century artists as Paul Klee, Emil Nolde, Alfred Kubin, and other expressionist and surrealist painters of the 20th century.

No single label adequately describes the visionary work produced by Ensor between 1880 and 1900, his most productive period. His pictures from that time have both Symbolist and Realist aspects, and in spite of his dismissal of the Impressionists as ‘superficial daubers’ he was profoundly concerned with the effects of light. His imagery and technical procedures anticipated the coloristic brilliance and violent impact of Fauvism and German Expressionism and the psychological fantasies of Surrealism.