Lot 8
  • 8

JAMES ENSOR | Le Christ agonisant

30,000 - 40,000 EUR
Log in to view results
bidding is closed


  • James Ensor
  • Le Christ agonisant
  • signed James Ensor, titled Le Christ agonisant and inscribed papier de 1567 (lower left) and inscribed papier de 1567 (upper right) 
  • coloured pencils on paper
  • 28,8 x 41 cm ; 11 3/8 x 16 1/8 in.
  • Executed circa 1930-40.


Galerie Atelier (Franz Aerts), Ostende
Willy D'Huysser
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1988


Brussels & Paris, Galerie Isy Brachot, James Ensor dans les collections privées II, 1985-86, no. 50
Kobe, Museum of Modern Art, James Ensor, 1983-84, no. 167


Executed on cream wove paper, not laid down, affixed to the mount with tape in three points along the upper edge. The four edges are slightly deckled with a few tiny nicks and paper losses in places. There is a small repaired hole (approx. 1 cm wide) with associated repaired tears (the larger of which is approx. 2 cm long) at the lower left corner (not visible when framed). There are glue remnants along the right and left edges. The sheet is slighly undulating and there is some faint light staining. There are dots of foxing predominately outside of the composition (not visible when framed). This work is in overall good condition.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

The figure of Christ was the subject of many paintings, drawings and engravings in James Ensor's work. One of his first works depicting Christ on a cross is a charcoal drawing from 1886, entitled Satan et les légions fantastiques tourmentant le Christ crucifié (MRBAB, Brussels; inv. n° 4193). The drawing is part of a series of works entitled Les Auréoles du Christ ou les sensibilités de la lumière. The artist associates each of the six events in the life of Christ with one of the expressive qualities of light. Thus, Christ dying on the cross is associated with a "sad and broken" light. Christ is being attacked by monstrous imps and voracious skeletons whilst at the foot of the cross a diabolical Sabbath takes place. It is one of the most somber subjects James Ensor ever dealt with.
In 1888, Ensor painted an oil version which is very different from the drawing entitled Le Christ tourmenté (Tricot 291), currently at the Mildred Lane Kemper Museum, Washington University, Saint-Louis. At the same period, Ensor painted an oil panel entitled Le Christ agonisant (Tricot 292). The very expressive and colourful painting was in many ways the model for several versions or replicas painted in 1938 and in 1939 (Tricot 616, 808, 809).
The drawing, proposed by Sotheby's (Paris) is based on this model. The drawing was probably made in the 1930s, and more specifically in 1938 or 1939 when Ensor painted two versions of Christ agonisant. Scattered around Christ on the cross are small monsters and imps dancing in a carnival atmosphere. Whilst a cherub with bare thighs (in the upper right corner) breaks wind, other grotesque figures grimace and openly mock the dying Christ. A fantastic bird seems to be pecking at the gaping wound of Christ's crucified flank. Christ's rigid posture, with his perizonium in a sarong) recalls the first representations of Christ on the cross in late Roman art of the 5th century (see the ivory plate, 420-130, British Museum collection, London). With his usual precision, Ensor noted the date of the paper on which he drew, paper most probably given to him by a printer.

Xavier Tricot