smoked herring & the green fairy
Paris has been good to me recently. Yesterday I drank absinthe with mon père at a cafe near the Louvre, having spent the day at Les Invalides gazing at Gatling guns and Napoleon’s tomb. I spent Friday at the Musée d’Orsay scoping out art and people. There were a few girls who looked like they’d just been photographed for the Sartorialist and who caught me staring shamelessly at their various structured wool blazers, vintage jewelry, perfectly tousled bedhead hair, just-so rolled-cuff jeans, and ideal boots. I did manage to avert my calculating eyes enough to see some of James Ensor, however, and to take note of some things I found interesting.
:: He described light as the opposite of line, and line as the enemy of genius.
:: He takes a lot of credit for being the first artist to understand light’s distortive effect on a line, and uses this claim to distance himself from the Impressionist movement.
:: He was an atheist, despite his huge number of Christ-focused works – apparently he only painted Christ because he identified with him as an outcast. (For anyone who knows the Enneagram – what a 4.)
:: He became a member of Les XX, or The Twenty (a group of 20 Belgian artists formed in 1883) after the group of which he was previously a member, L’Essor, rejected his painting The Oyster Eater.
James Ensor, The Oyster Eater, 1882
My favorite fact of all!!
:: He called himself James (art) Ensor because in French the sound of the words art + Ensor = the sound of the words hareng saur, “smoked herring.” How delightful. Whenever herrings appear in his work, then, they are meant to represent the artist and his work. The two skeletons below are I think supposed to be critics, who didn’t like him so much.
James Ensor, Skeletons Fighting for a Smoked Herring, 1891
James Smoked Herring on color:
“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, The Terrified Musicians, date unknown
And finally, here’s a song – You’ve Got the Love by Florence & the Machine, remixed by the band The XX, who I figger must have taken their name from the group of artists. Clever.