- James Ensor
- Oil and black chalk on canvas
- 25 7/8 by 32 in.
- 65.7 by 81.3 cm
Harry Torczyner, Antwerp & New York
Gifted from the above in 1963
Tel Aviv, Tel Aviv Museum, James Ensor, 1981, no. 39
Xavier Tricot, James Ensor: Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, Ostfildern, 2009, no. 628, illustrated p. 381
Except for three years spent at the Brussels Academy, from 1877 to 1880, Ensor lived in Ostend all his life. His early works were of traditional subjects: landscapes, still lifes, portraits and interiors, painted in rich tones. In the mid-1880s, influenced by the bright colors of the Impressionists and the grotesque imagery of earlier Flemish masters such as Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Brueghel the Elder, Ensor turned toward avant-garde themes and styles (see fig.1). "The move into fantasy was an advance of quantum proportions. Freed from the constraints of convention – modern and academic alike – Ensor redirected his energy, jumping from such revelatory real-world experiences as discovering the phantasmal art of Odilon Redon, or looking into Mariette Rousseau's microscope, to a fantastical place of his own making" (Anna Swinbourne, James Ensor, New York, 2009, p.22).
In Démons, Ensor presents to the viewer another world, replete with characters and imagery derived from religion, myth and fantasy. The various figures appear in differing levels of clarity. Their distance from the picture plane is based less on their size than of the strength of the artist's lines. This exploration of light connects the present work to Ensor's work of the 1880s and 90s, when he concentrated on light especially in conjunction with religious subject matter. The rainbow-like striations of the Demon's wings suggest that Ensor means to render light, "not as an atmospheric suggestion (as the Impressionists did), but as a symbolic theme in itself, a means of expression—in line with the work of Rembrandt and Turner" (ibid., p. 105).
Fig. 1 Hieronymous Bosch, Garden of Earthly Delights (detail), Museo del Prado, Madrid