JESTER OR PREACHER
By Iris Conlay DID he take himself seriously ? Does he mean us to take him seriously ? These are the ques
tions one asks oneself al the National Gallery collection of James Ensor's paintings.
The mask and the skeleton of the clown arc the stock-in-trade of the macabre satirist, but where is the satire in these gay, lighthearted and some timeS impish productions ? I have looked a long time at these sepulchral phantesonago, ias, especially at the skeletons wanting to warm themselves at the lire. and are neither chilled by the Edgar Allan Poe atmosphere nor prompted to discover a Freudian reason for the idea; instead, I just want to laugh. It may be that the artist intended me to be amused by his experiments with devils and demons who squabble over a herring. skeletons who play billiards, wear clothes and try to get sorne'llessit into their iangling bones; after all, to take the Devil and Evil and Death seriously does not preclude having a good guffaw at them And anyway when the painter puts on a funny hat and then paints himself in a company of masks there is nothing '0 prevent my believing that he was miserably unhappy in a world of unsymnatheue and misunderstanding People, but he preferred not to pity himself in his predirament but to make a good joke out of it all.
ENSOR WAS AN ENGLISHMAN That state of mnd might well have Peen engendered by his life and his tradition. It is quite important to remember about Ensor that be was by birth an . Englishman—and it is the English way to make light of one's
troubles in public. It is important, too, to realise that Ensor had his forty days (only they were years" in the desert. Born in Ostend, he has lived there all his eighty-six years, but for a greater part of his paint.ng life he was ignored and neglected. He was forced into himself so that either he was likely to find himself a tragic hejo or a comic one. lie preferred, I believe, to find aimself a comedian, and after accepting the fact that he was a failure. his work, turning in on itself, grew more and more fantastic, grotesque—and amusing.
The great breakdown came when Ensor tried out religious subjects. He did not have an original brain although he had a very ingenious one, and his exuberant energy, which drove him to experiment with every technique and style in Western painting, eventually drove him to attempt religious
subjects. Terrible as is the Man of Sorrows, the face almost vicious in its violence, it shows the thin quality of the artist's imagination more baldly than any other picture in the exhibition.
Piobably there is 110 other living artist with quite such power with paint as Ensor's. His greatest triumphs. such as The Skate, and the Camel-1kmous Person and the Roofs of Ostend. are works in the true grand manner. But it is difficult to be entirely impressed by a man who had so little to say although he could say it in the style of Breughel, Mervyn Peake.
Turner, Van Gogh Hogan!" ,Sicken, Heath Robinson, Whistler, Beardsley and Bosch, CRUCIFIXION At the Church Artists' Agency (it is better known a St Michael's Work shop to readers of this column). there is a small. bu, interesting collection of contemporary crucifixions, some paintings, some plaster or wood figures. etc. The most impressive painting is the sketch made for the finished work. now being shown in firming. ham of Roy de Maistre's deeply mostmg and yet stern group treated in a modern style, of three traditional figures Simple and dignified. too. are Josephine de Vasconcellos' plaster models 4