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Christ's Entry into Brussels in 1889
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© 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SABAM, Brussels

James Ensor
Belgian, Ostend, 1888
Oil on canvas
99 1/2 x 169 1/2 in.
87.PA.96

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James Ensor took on religion, politics, and art in this scene of Christ entering contemporary Brussels in a Mardi Gras parade. In response to the French pointillist style, Ensor used palette knives, spatulas, and both ends of his brush to put down patches of colors with expressive freedom. He made several preparatory drawings for the painting, including one in the J. Paul Getty Museum's collection.

Ensor's society is a mob, threatening to trample the viewer--a crude, ugly, chaotic, dehumanized sea of masks, frauds, clowns, and caricatures. Public, historical, and allegorical figures along with the artist's family and friends made up the crowd. The haloed Christ at the center of the turbulence is in part a self-portrait: mostly ignored, a precarious, isolated visionary amidst the herdlike masses of modern society. Ensor's Christ functioned as a political spokesman for the poor and oppressed--a humble leader of the true religion, in opposition to the atheist social reformer Emile Littré, shown in bishop's garb holding a drum major's baton leading on the eager, mindless crowd.

After rejection by Les XX, the artists' association that Ensor had helped to found, the painting was not exhibited publicly until 1929. Ensor displayed Christ's Entry prominently in his home and studio throughout his life. With its aggressive, painterly style and merging of the public with the deeply personal, Christ's Entry was a forerunner of twentieth-century Expressionism.


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James Ensor: Christ's Entry into Brussels in 1889

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