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A 5 pages term paper on The Entry of Christ into Brussels

Ensor's early works were of traditional subjects painted in deep, rich colors and submissive light. He is recognized for his avant-garde themes and styles portraying a fantastic and stupid humanity. He took his subject matter mainly from Ostend's holiday crowds, which he loathed. His large painting The Entry of Christ into Brussels (1889) reflects this style which led directly to expressionism.

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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 that portrayed bland, orderly bourgeoisie with tiny, uniform strokes of paint, Ensor used palette knives, spatulas, and both ends of his brush to put down patches of colors with expressive freedom Ensor's society is a mob, threatening to flatten 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 herd-like 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.

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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.

The Entry of Christ into Brussels is in Getty Art Museum in Malibu; previously it had been on a long term loan to the City Art Museum in his home town of Ostend. A thorough cleaning and restoration has revealed the full vibrancy of this picture. The Entry of Christ into Brussels shows a satirical view of the second coming of Christ. A controversial painting, it was listed at the 1889 catalog for Les XX, but was not shown. In fact, it was not shown public ally until 1929. The Entry of Christ into Brussels is a very large painting, in bright, even garish colors, painted in a deliberately crude style. Ensor aggressively challenged the rules of perspective and even good taste in this picture. Most people are shown wearing masks that can not be distinguished from their true faces. Ensor reasoned that if Christ were to return to earth, modern commercial and political interests would certainly try to draft in the event. Although Christ has been given a parade in his honor, and he is shown entering Brussels on the back of a donkey as he entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, he is almost lost in the crowd. The mayor of Brussels (at upper right, with the cane and sash) seems to be trying to use the event for his advantage. Ensor identified with the martyred Christ, and he used his own features for the face of Christ. In its free use of color and space and brushwork to enhance the psychological impact, Ensor's work paved the way for Expressionism in the twentieth century.

               Ensor kept The Entry of Christ into Brussels with him throughout his life, and as with many of his paintings, he made a number of alterations to it. An etched version of the subject from 1898 shows that of the banners and posters more clearly. Corporate and political advertising banners are given great prominence. Slogans for the socialist party and Colman's mustard are also included.

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The texts shown in the print include many contemporary social issues mixed in with advertisements:

VIVE JESUS ET LES REFORMES (Long live Jesus and the reforms)
COLMAN'S MUSTART (Colman's mustard)
VIVE DENBIJN (Long live Denbijn)
MOUVEMENT FLAMAND (Flemish movement)
LES VIVISECTEURS BELGES INSENSIBLES LES XX (The insensitive Belgian vivisectors Les XX -- Ensor was an ardent anti-vivisectionist, and had much resentment about his treatment by Les XX)
VIVE LA SOCIALE (Long lives the Social, or long lives welfare)
FANFARES DOCTRINAIRES TOUJOUR REUSSI (Doctrinaire fanfares always succeed)
LES CHARCUTIERS DE JERUSALEM (The butchers of Jerusalem)
SALUT JESUS ROI DE BRUXELLES (Greetings to Jesus, King of Brussels)
PHALANGE WAGNER FRACASSANT (Noisy Wagner Army -- Ensor detested the music of Wagner)
LA SAMARIE RECONNAISSANTE (The grateful Samaritan)
VIVE ANSEELE ET JESUS (Long live Anseele and Jesus - Anseele was a Flemish socialist leader)
(Stephen C. McGough, James Ensor's "The Entry of Christ into Brussels in 1889", New York: Garland Press, 1985, pg 92)

Works Cited

Stephen C. McGough, James Ensor's "The Entry of Christ into Brussels in 1889", New York: Garland Press, 1985, pg 92.


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