Friday, February 28, 2014

Arty Farty Friday: James Ensor - Neptune in Pisces Ascending

James Ensor didn't have natal Sun in Pisces, but he did have Neptune, modern ruler of Pisces, slap-bang on his ascendant. He was born on 13 April 1860 at 4:30 am in Ostend, Belgium (data from Astrodatabank AA rating = very reliable). Chart and notes on the astrology follow at the end of this post.

A band called They Might be Giants once wrote a song about this artist:

Meet James Ensor
Belgium's famous painter
Dig him up and shake his hand
Appreciate the man

Before there were junk stores
Before there was junk
He lived with his mother and the torments of Christ
The world was transformed
A crowd gathered round
Pressed against his window so they could be the first

To meet James Ensor
Belgium's famous painter
Raise a glass and sit and stare
Understand the man

He lost all his friends
He didn't need his friends
He lived with his mother and repeated himself
The world has forgotten
The world moved along
The crowd at his window went back to their homes

Meet James Ensor
Meet James Ensor
Belgium's famous painter
Dig him up and shake his hand
Appreciate the man.

I enjoyed a 2009 piece on this artist by Elatia Harris at 3 Quarks Daily - James Ensor: Keepin' It Surreal. Or there's Pariah to Paragon - James Ensor and the Carnivalesque by Bryce Dwyer at University of Tampa's Journal of Art History. Or Wikipedia's page on the artist.

In a nutshell, for the greater part of his life Ensor was not an artist embraced by the elite of late 19th century art world. He was an outsider, made little attempt to change this, remained in the city of his birth, living and working in a studio in the home of his parents. He did come to be accepted later in life, but from what I've read, such public acceptance seemed to mark a decrease in, or complete loss of, the sharp insights in that strange style which eventually brought him recognition. Perhaps he had thrived on, and revelled in simply being an outsider, but once his work became widely accepted something within him retreated.

His earliest work was fairly mainline, fairly unremarkable, then his paintings seemed to veer into a kind of raging madness, and his style stayed somewhere out there where the buses didn't run. His paintings are filled with masks and skeletons, or unpleasant images. I understand these were depressing commentaries on the human condition as he saw it from the vantage point of his hometown, Ostend, a city on the North Sea coast of Belgium. Belgian history, and maybe his own mortality must have conjured such morbid visions. Human bones were regularly uncovered in Ostend, residue of the carnage there during seventeenth-century warfare; Ensor possibly retained memories of their exhumation. His 1888 etching (below) of himself as a skeleton, reclining in slippers bears the title My Portrait in 1960.

A few more examples of his work.........

 Christ's Entry into Brussels in 1889

 The Frightful Musicians

Skeletons Fighting Over a Pickled Herring

Ensor seemed to enjoy painting self portraits -19th century version of a "selfie" I suppose - three of these follow:

 Self Portrait with Flowered Hat

 Detail from Self Portrait with Masks

 Ensor at the Harmonium

With regard to his art style, Neptune in Pisces on the ascendant and Uranus conjunct Venus in Gemini is really all there is to say!

His dream or nightmare-like scenes, masks, illusions (Pisces Neptune), off-the-wall subject matter (Uranus) in his art (Venus) - the most unpleasant of which I have not posted. For example there's a painting Doctrinal Nourishment [Alimentation Doctrinaire], a provocative send-up of authoritarian hubris that lampoons the Belgian ruling classes as bloated, self-satisfied tyrants, sitting, bare-bottomed, on a high wall and emptying their bowels into the awaiting mouths of a ravenous crowd. Created in 1889, this print critiqued the unstable socio-political climate aggravated and perpetuated by the oppressive policies of King Leopold II. (See HERE)

Ensor's apparent need to stay on the outside of the art world's bubble, to be different, to appear eccentric clearly relates to Uranus conjunct Venus.

“Drenched in British purples, I have offered up my tones: pigeon breast, hind belly, balky mule lung, monkey bottom pink, lapis lazuli and malachite, excited nymph thigh, panther pee-pee, high-smelling hen hair, hedgehog in aspic, barrel-maker's brothel, revered rose, monkeybush, turkey-like white, sly violet, page's slipper, immaculate nun spring, unspeakable red, Ensor azure, affected yellow, mummy skull, rock-hard gray, brunt celadon, shop soiled smoke ring.”
~ James Ensor, "James Ensor"


mike said...

Intriguing, interesting, and weird guy you selected, Twilight! Yes, you summed-up nicely with his artistic, astrological influences, except that I'd add that his Aries Sun in first house increased his need to assert himself and not be fixated on social niceties.

Quite the independent person...have to admire his qualities and for displaying his disdain for authority and commoners, then in other paintings, being supportive of commoner suppression. In the close-knit, Victorian constraints of his burg and era, he must have been viewed as a monster. At least he was appreciated later in his life for his outspoken and outlandish style; many weren't recognized for years after death.

I quickly reviewed your provided links and I'm struck by the lack of personal biography...just the rudiments. He must not have left much of a trail.

Twilight said...

mike ~ He would have been an asset to us in present times - his brazen, brave, radical, "kiss-my-ass" anti-establishment attitude is all too rare now - in the USA anyway.

I too looked for some more personal tid-bits but found nothing. He appears to have lived alone in the house that was his parents', no mention of wife or family. I'm sure that somewhere along the way I saw mention of him having written an autobiography (I think the quote at the end of the post comes from it) - but it'd be in French or Flemish I suppose, though his parents were actually English. He didn't have much to do with England other than one visit.

Twilight said...

mike~ In a 2009 article at NYT ~

Two snips

Most of the interiors are of Ensor’s family home. After a few years in Brussels, Ensor moved back to Ostend; he would never leave again for any extended period. He had many friends, and a long-term romantic attachment, but never married. His top-floor studio was over the shop, and from there he could look down on narrow streets and see beach and sea, and a grand expanse of sky.

He was acutely sensitive to what he saw as a wholesale critical rejection of his art, impelled by a “viciousness beyond all known limits.” Much of his work from the late 1880s onward was a response to this perception, a statement of exultantly defiant martyrdom.

He depicted himself beheaded, dissected, nailed to the cross. In one tiny painting he becomes a pickled herring pulled apart by two grinning critic-skeletons. In an etching we see him urinating against a public wall on which is scrawled “Ensor est un fou” — “Ensor is a nut job.”

mike (again) said...

"Around 1888 Ensor would meet Augusta Bogaerts with whom he maintained a lifelong relationship, though without ever living together with her. After the death of his father in 1887, Ensor was often charged with the care for his mother, his live-in aunt Mimi, his divorcée sister Mariette (or Mitche) and her daughter Alexandrine, as well as the management of the family store, the most important source of income."

" In the mid 1880's the artist, in his mid-20's by then, was forbidden by his family from marrying the girl he loved. This setback for the young man led to a personal crisis which brought on an ulcer and a decade of depression. In the early 1890's he actually tried to sell all the contents of his studio."

mike (again) said...

Off topic - speculation from Raymond Merriman:,-2014/

"... Probably about as long as it will take the Federal Reserve to give an accounting of how much Gold it really holds in Fort Knox, which is another topic of intrigue altogether that may get revealed shortly, by way of China, which is due in April to give a five-year report on its Gold holdings. Five years ago it showed holding of slightly over 1,000 tons and the USA well-over 5,000 tons. There is speculation those numbers may be reversed– that China now has over 5,000 tons - and if so…. someone at the Fed will have some explaining to do. Since there is not that much Gold in the world for both the USA and China to have over 5,000 tons each, where did China import it all from? This may be the revelation associated with the grand cardinal cross in April that shocks the world. April, when Mars, Jupiter, Uranus, and Pluto all reside at 13 degrees of cardinal signs (Aries, Cancer, Libra, and Capricorn), forming a grand cardinal square (or cross). Furthermore, it sits right on the USA Sun square Saturn at 13-14 Cancer-Libra. And that is when China is due to give its 5-year report on its Gold holdings."

Twilight said...

mike ~ Oh well done you: finding that much detail! The poor guy seems truly put upon, what with critics hating his work and demands of family, there's not a bit of wonder that some of his paintings seem filled with anger and angst and depression.
I suppose he liked to paint self portraits to convince himself he still existed.

(again) Re Merriman's speculation - sounds ominous!
Sometimes those configurations don't bring on things as dramatic as expected though - a bit like eclipses. It'll be interesting to watch what happens though.