Art, Getty Research Institute

Poe-Inspired Prints by Ensor Join Research Institute’s Collection

Hop-Frog’s Revenge / James Ensor

Hop-Frog’s Revenge, 1898, James Ensor. The Getty Research Institute, 2012.A.73. © 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SABAM, Brussels

Three prints by James Ensor have just joined the collection of the Getty Research Institute. All three were made in the 1890s, when Ensor was at the peak of his creative powers, and all contain the eerie imagery for which Ensor is known (and loved)—skeletons, masks, and crowds. Two of the three take inspiration from stories by Edgar Allan Poe, another visionary genius with a talent for the macabre.

In Hop-Frog, the print shown above, a group of bound men hang above a giant ballroom filled with spectators, while a skeleton has fallen into the empty circle below. Ensor imagined this scene from Poe’s short story “Hop-Frog,” in which a dwarf and court jester takes vengeance on his king, who had cruelly mistreated his lover. Hop-Frog raises himself and the chained men—the king and his council—on the end of a chandelier rig then proceeds to ignite them and escape to the roof. Ensor imagines the scene with a dramatic perspective that reduces the crowd to a sea of tiny figures stretching back as far as the eye can see. Colored wash enhances the riotous scene, as with many of Ensor’s etchings.

King Pest, 1895 / James Ensor

King Pest, 1895, James Ensor. The Getty Research Institute, 2012.A.73. © 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SABAM, Brussels

Also inspired by Poe this print based on “King Pest,”  about two sailors who stumble into an undertaker’s shop in a plague-riddled area of London. We see the terrifying “King Pest the First” and his ghoulish counselors hold a mysterious meeting around a table bearing a steaming cauldron, knives and forks in hand. Above, a skeleton chandelier with a glowing eye socket hangs from the ceiling, adding to the macabre mood.

These deliciously disturbing prints join the GRI’s already significant collections on Ensor, which include more than 100 autographed letters and many prints. And the Getty Museum houses Ensor’s masterpiece Christ’s Entry into Brussels in 1889, making the Getty an important repository for the artist – a key factor in the collector’s decision to generously give these prints to the Getty. In fact, in 2014 the Museum will mount a major exhibition devoted to Ensor, which will include the painting and prints from the GRI, along with numerous loans.

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      All Hail Tiberius, Least Media-Savvy of the Roman Emperors

      Tiberius was proclaimed Roman emperor on September 17 in AD 14, exactly 2,000 years ago.

      He was also a bit wacko. “He was the least media-savvy emperor you could imagine,” says curator David Saunders, who has been in charge of this bronze portrait of Tiberius which leaves us on September 22. He point to this description found in the writings of Cassius Dio:

      Tiberius was a patrician of good education, but he had a most peculiar nature. He never let what he desired appear in his conversation, and what he said he wanted he usually did not desire at all. On the contrary, his words indicated the exact opposite of his real purpose; he denied all interest in what he longed for, and urged the claims of what he hated. He would exhibit anger over matters that were far from arousing his wrath, and make a show of affability where he was most vexed…In short, he thought it bad policy for the sovereign to reveal his thoughts; this was often the cause, he said, of great failures, whereas by the opposite course, far more and greater successes were attained.

      Moreover, David tells us, “Tiberius’s accession itself was a farrago: Tiberius sort-of feigning reluctance, the Senate bullying him, he being all, ‘Well, if-I-have-to,’ and in the end—according to Suetonius—saying he’ll do it as long as he can retire.”

      Suetonius is full of great, albeit spurious, anecdotes about poor old Tiberius, David reports. “When someone addressed him as ‘My Lord,’ it is said, Tiberius gave warning that no such insult should ever again be thrown at him.”

      Happy accession, My Lord!

      Portrait Head of Tiberius (“The Lansdowne Tiberius”), early 1st century A.D., Roman. The J. Paul Getty Museum

      Statue of Tiberius (detail), Roman, A.D. 37, Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Napoli e Pompei – Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli, Laboratorio di Conservazione e Restauro. Currently on view at the Getty Villa following conservation and study.


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