Artwork Detail

Le Christ tourmenté (Christ Tormented)
Belgian, 1860–1949
Oil on linen
21 7/8 x 27 5/8 "
Bequest of Morton J. May, 1968
WU 4391
Artist Rights Society, Inc. (ARS)
One of the most radical artists of the late nineteenth century, James Ensor paired highly individualistic iconography with a painterly technique emphasizing the expressive qualities of light and color. The idiosyncratic elements he introduced into his paintings include grotesque and caricatured faces inspired by Belgian Carnival celebrations and Chinese theater masks sold at his family’s curio shop. Beginning in the 1880s and 1890s Ensor created many highly subjective treatments of religious themes that were not common subject matter in the arts at the turn of the century. In Christ Tormented Jesus Christ hangs crucified amidst an atmospheric landscape of color. As in some conventional depictions, Christ is tormented by a Roman soldier who pierces his side with a lance. Ensor has embellished this traditional tableau with a small demon atop the cross, figures wearing masks, and flying spirits or angels. Ensor’s depiction focuses on Christ at his most human, including in the moment of affliction at the hands of such fanciful creatures. Ensor’s innovative works sometimes received harsh criticism from critics. Although not well known in Belgium until the 1920s, he was acclaimed by German Expressionist artists in the 1910s for his independent style and intensely personal imagery. [Permanent collection label, 2016]