Masks Required – in Art & Life (Ensor)

Cher’s Famous Art

29 August 2020

”Christ’s Entry into Brussels in 1889”

James Ensor, 1888, Symbolist, Belgium

Travel Tip: Disrupted Travel Plans

First, I am generally not a personal fan of Ensor’s work;it is often too grotesque for my personal visual liking. However, I learned along ago that one can appreciate art and its message without having to like it. 

Marching Masses in Masks

On the far opposite spectrum from Norman Rockwell, this painting is not one meant to make one feel good. Quite the opposite. However, it also seems very appropriate for our times today—on several levels.  Witness masses of people in masks, marching with banners about social and moral issues, milling about in crowded hallways, corridors and streets. 

Ensor’s “Christ Entry into Brussels, 1889”

The Painting

Ensor’s most monumental work (8’3” x 14’1”), gigantic oil on canvas, is said to be an indictment of corrupt “modern” (1888) values.  Christ enters Brussels on a donkey in 1889, ignored by the dense crowd of soldiers and citizens wearing ugly, grotesque, grimacing masks. 

The Original Message

Art historians comment that it is Ensor’s pessimistic vision of how Christ would be greeted if he entered the Belgian capital in 1889.  (Maybe even in 2020?)  Christ is a small and insignificant figure on a donkey in the background of the painting (look just above the center point for the figure in red with a large, flat, golden halo).  Some of the people carry banners and signs: “Long Live Jesus, King of Brussels,” and others, “Long Live Socialism.”  It is also noted that the discordant color combination of reds, blues and greens adds to the overall impact on the viewer. 

The Message for Today

Critics believe that Ensor’s canvas has few equals as an indictment of the immorality of modern life of 1889; I add that indictment is not only for 1889, but also for 2020.  It is at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, CA, and included on my bucket list of museums to visit on my next trip to LA!


TRAVEL TIP: When your best laid plans abruptly change. I had hoped to see this painting in person this Christmas holiday while on a visit to Los Angeles, California that had been in the works for nearly one year. The two Getty Museums in the LA area have long been on my Bucket List of museums to visit and this was my chance! However with COVID-19 rearing its ugly head again this fall, we have –but wisely–decided to cancel our trip. At this time, I am therefore unable to offer helpful tips on visits to these museums but will share what I am doing while I wait for another opportunity! When–and they will–plans change. . . KEEP ALL YOUR RESEARCH! Then, when the chance again comes your way to visit someplace special, you’re all set! That also may help allay the disappointment in your change of plans.

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