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JAMES ENSOR La Vengeance de Hop-Frog.
Etching with hand coloring in watercolor and gouache on imitation Japan paper, 1898. 356x244 mm; 14x9 5/8 inches, full margins. Second state (of 2). Signed, dated and titld in pencil, lower margin. A superb, richly-inked impression with strong contrasts and warm plate tone, the extensive hand coloring fresh and undiminished.
Ensor (1860-1949) was born in Brussels to well-educated parents; his father was an engineer with English parents and born in Brussels, his mother was Belgian. He dropped out of school at age 15 to pursue study as an artist with two local painters, then attended the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels from the ages of 17-20, early on establishing his artistic aptitude. Ensor was a fairly isolated artist throughout his career. His studio from 1880 to 1917 was in the attic of his parent's house and his travels consisted only of several short trips to France and the Netherlands (1880s) and a four-day trip to London (1892). He lived in the small Belgian seaside town of Ostend for most of his adult life and rarely left, despite the risk of bombardment during World War II.
His work was often political and he was criticized during the late 19th century for his incendiary images. He was unpopular with many critics and in the art market until the mid-1890s. This changed in 1895 when his painting The Lamp Boy(1880) was acquired by the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium in Brussels and he had his first solo exhibition in Brussels.
The mid-1890s marked a watershed period in the artist's career, not just in his popularity, but also in his turn to subject matter which scathingly criticized Belle Époque society and organized religion. Ensor showed his personal disgust for the inhumanity of the world through aggressively sarcastic religious scenes and depictions of everyday life. He was a forerunner of 20th century Expressionism and a major influence on artists such as Paul Klee, Emil Nolde and George Grosz.
The current lot, as Taevernier notes, is based on a short story by Edgar Allan Poe. In the story, the Hop-Frog is the king's jester who sought revenge for the ruler and his ministers' mistreatment of his partner, Trippetta. The jester planned an elaborate masked ball, during which he replaced the chandelier with the publicly-tarred bureaucrats and made his escape with Trippetta. Ensor memorialized the climax of Poe's story with this etching, likely commenting on the corrupting influence of power, particularly that in Europe at the time.
A prolific printmaker, Ensor created 133 etchings and drypoints over the course of his career. Early on he began experimenting with various methods of incorporating color into his printed oeuvre. Ensor at times chose to print on color tinted paper to create atmospheric affects; he printed with variations of colored ink, or in the most complex cases hand colored compositions printed in black with watercolor, gouache or colored pens and pencils. Ensor's most dramatic prints are extensively colored by hand, like the current impression of La Vengeance de Hop-Frog, each a highly unique work bordering on painting. Delteil 112; Taevernier 112; Elesh 115.