James Ensor, ‘La Cathédrale (The Cathedral)’, 1886, Christie's

A very good impression of Elesh's rare first state (of four), signed in pencil, with margins, pale light-staining, a pinhole in the upper margin, with irregularly trimmed sheet edges, otherwise in good condition
Plate 247 x 190 mm., Sheet 297 x 234 mm.

From the Catalogue:
La Cathédrale was one of the best known of Ensor’s prints during his lifetime. As his practice was to print impressions on demand, popularity of this subject led to the plate deteriorating through repeated printing. To avoid having to print from a very worn plate, Ensor made a second version, an almost exact copy of the first. This example of the first version is an early impression before the addition of a signature and date at upper right and the cleaning of the sky, and without any wear to the plate.

The towering structure of the building draws upon the architecture of three cathedrals, Aachen, Vienna and Antwerp, which Ensor knew or had seen illustrated in the journal Le Magasin Pittoresque. Combining elements of each, Ensor created a fantastical, shimmering edifice, which seems not only to reflect, but to emanate, light. The cathedral is surrounded by a carnival procession, with fluttering flags and banners, marching soldiers and costumed revellers. This seething mass of humanity calls to mind Balzac’s description of 'Thousands of people squeezed together, like ants around their nests’ in the short story Jesus-Christ en Flandre, a possible literary source for the etching (H. de Balzac, Jesus-Christ en Flandre, in La Comédie humaine: études philosophiques, 1846, quoted in: D. Lesko, James Ensor – The Creative Years, Princeton University Press, New Jersey, 1985, p. 86). The densely ornamented surface of the stone edifice almost finds its translation into flesh and blood in the meticulously detailed facial expressions and antics of the crowd. The print has generally been interpreted as a social critique, in which the sublime structure of the church, a symbol of mankind’s highest aspirations, is contrasted with the chaotic crowd, representative of humanity's lower instincts.
—Courtesy of Christie's

Christie's Special Notice
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.

Delteil, Croquez, Taevernier & Elesh 7

A gift from the artist; then by descent to the present owner.

About James Ensor

A major figure of the Belgian avant-garde in the late 19th century and a forerunner of 20th-century Expressionism, James Ensor produced paintings that explored religious subject matter, political satire, and carnivalesque imagery (his family owned an antiques and souvenir emporium that sold grotesque carnival masks). Stylistically, his paintings are characterized by harsh colors and thick layers of oil paint, sometimes applied with palette knives or spatulas. His most famous work, Christ’s Entry into Brussels (1889), incorporated his trademark style and depictions of fairground masks to satirize contemporary religion and politics in Belgium. In his early years, Ensor was a founder and leader of Les Vingt (The Twenty), a group whose goal was to promote new artistic developments in Europe, though they later rejected his work as it became more radical and extreme in subject and method. Ensor admired the works of Francisco Goya and J. M. W. Turner, and felt a particular affinity with their preoccupations with both light and violence.

Belgian, 1860-1949, Ostend, Belgium