My first major discovery at the Getty was Portrait of Jeanne Kéfer (1885) by Fernand Khnopff. The second one was Christ’s Entry into Brussels in 1889 (1888) by James Ensor. “I must be in the wrong room,” I thought. “This could only have been painted in the 1920s. A little earlier, perhaps, if it’s by a ‘naive’ artist (whatever it means).”

Michael Brenson, a critic, curator and educator, asked in 1991:

How can any history of modern art be written in which this monumental work plays only a marginal role?

From James Ensor’s Christ’s Entry into Brussels in 1889: Technical Analysis, Restoration, and Reinterpretation by Mark Leonard and Louise Lippincott:

“I didn’t know the Getty bought modern art,” is fairly typical of the response to the museum’s purchase in 1987 of the monumental Christ’s Entry into Brussels in 1889 by James Ensor…

Khnopff (born in 1858) and Ensor (1860) attended the Brussels School of Fine Arts at about the same time. It has been suggested that both responded to Georges Seurat’s 1884-5 painting, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte – Khnopff with Memories (Lawn Tennis) and Ensor with Christ’s Entry into Brussels. Brenson had not doubt Ensor was reacting to (the) Seurat:

It is a malicious reaction to Seurat’s “Sunday Afternoon on the Island of the Grande Jatte,” which had been triumphantly exhibited in Brussels in 1887…

With its mob of carnivalistic, cannibalistic people pressing forward, jostling one another, cramming boulevard and canvas, “Christ’s Entry Into Brussels” seems like an attempt to match the provocation of Manet’s “Olympia.” With the exception of the smiling Marquis de Sade at the lower right, and the tiny figure of Christ almost lost in the center (who may bear Ensor’s features), just about every face is a mask.

There’s more in the guide to Ensor at Christie’s.

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