James Ensor (1860-1949)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE BELGIAN COLLECTION
James Ensor (1860-1949)

L' Appel de la sirène (La Baignade)

James Ensor (1860-1949)
L' Appel de la sirène (La Baignade)
signed and dated 'Ensor 93' (lower right)
oil and pencil on panel
14 7/8 x 18 in. (38 x 46.3 cm.)
Painted in 1893
Galerie Louis Manteau, Brussels.
Dr. François Delporte, Brussels.
Marcel Mabille, Brussels.
G. David Thompson, Pittsburgh.
Galerie Beyeler, Basel.
Galerie Claude Bernard, Paris.
Baudouin de Grunne, Wezembeek-Oppem, by 1976 until 1984.
Galerie Willy D'Huysser, Brussels, by 1985
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1987.
E. Verhaeren, James Ensor, Brussels, 1908, p. 117 (titled 'La Peureuse' and dated '1891').
G. Le Roy, James Ensor, Brussels, 1922, p. 183 (titled 'La Peureuse' and dated '1891').
'Variétés, revue mensuelle illustrée de l'Esprit Contemporain', Brussells, no. 2, 15 May 1928, p. 74 (illustrated).
A. De Ridder, James Ensor, Paris, 1930, p. 13.
L. & P. Haesaerts, 'James Ensor ou la Diversité du Monde, in Flandre-L'Impressionnisme, Paris, 1931 (illustrated pp. 148 & 206).
P. Haesaerts, Clés pour les arts, Brussels, March 1972, no. 19 (illustrated).
G. Ollinger-Zinque, Ensor par lui-même, Brussels, 1976, no. 67, p. 124 (illustrated).
D. Lesko, James Ensor, the creatives years, Princeton, 1985, fig. 58, p. 68 (illustrated).
J.F. Buyck, Antwerpen 1900: schilderijen en tekeningen 1880-1914, Brussels, 1985, p. 44.
X. Tricot, James Ensor, The Complete Paintings, Brussels, 2009, no. 344, p. 313 (illustrated; dated '1891-1893').
Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts, James Ensor, January - February 1929, no. 192 (dated '1891').
Antwerp, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Retrospectieve James Ensor, June - August 1951, no. 110.
Zurich, Kunsthaus, James Ensor, May - July 1983, no. 89; this exhibition later travelled to Antwerp, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, August - October 1983, no. 84.
Hyogo, The Museum of Modern Art, James Ensor, December 1983 - January 1984, no. 55 (illustrated p. 76); this exhibition later travelled to Kamakura, The Museum of Modern Art, January - February 1984, Miyagi, Museum of Art, February - April 1984 and Saitama, The Museum of Modern Art, April - May 1984.
Ferrara, Palazzo Massari, Gallerie Civiche d'Arte Moderna, James Ensor, June - October 1986, no. 5.
Hamburg, Kunstverein, James Ensor, December 1986 - February 1987, no. 22.
Paris, Musée du Petit Palais, James Ensor, April - July 1990, no. 186.
Ostend, Venetiaanse Gaaderijen, De Baden te Oostende - James Ensor, Satiricus, June - September 1996, no. 18.
Ostend, Provinciaal Museum voor Moderne Kunst, Van Ensor tot Delvaux, October 1996 - March 1997, p. 130 (illustrated).
Brussels, Musée royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, James Ensor, September 1999 - February 2000, no. 121.
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, James Ensor, June - September 2009, p. 191, pl. 80.
Special notice
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.

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Antoine Lebouteiller
Antoine Lebouteiller

Lot Essay

James Ensor’s L’Appel de la sirène presents an amusing satire, crowned by the artist’s ironic self-portrait. This picture was exhibited in 1929, on the occasion of a major retrospective at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels. Mimicking the bathing customs of the time, a shivering man is hesitantly stepping down the stairs of his bathing machine. A generously-formed, big-bellied eager woman is inviting him to throw himself into the waves, to discover the pleasure of bathing. The scene may be Ostend, the Belgian city where Ensor was born and lived all his life and which in the Nineteenth Century had become an active seaside resort. By introducing his own image into the picture, Ensor not only revealed his penchant for self-irony, but also perhaps showed his scornful judgement towards those people who had taken so long to recognise his talent.

L’Appel de la sirène seems to parody the popular photographs which had flourished with tourism at Ostend: in the late Nineteenth Century it had become a fashion to have a photograph taken on the ‘Queen of beaches’ to bring back as a proud souvenir. Ensor himself would have had extensive exposure to this type of photograph, as they were sold in his family’s shop at Ostend (G. Ollinger-Zinque, Ensor par lui-même, Brussels, 1976, p. 125). Indeed it was in 1893 – around the time L’Appel de la sirène may have been executed – that Ensor’s family found itself in trouble for one of those very photographs. Writing to the lawyer Edmond Picard on 8 January 1893, Ensor revealed his distress while discussing the situation: ‘This letter is exceptional and no doubt reflects my disarray and worry. I am caught up in a nasty business. My aunt Mademoiselle Marie Haegheman is being prosecuted by Monsieur Braun of Paris (…) for having put on sale painted photographs glued on panels and seashells representing “Fearful woman” after Van Beers’ (X. Tricot, James Ensor, Ostfildern, 2009, p. 111). The dispute was an early example of copyright quarrel: his aunt had bought the photographs from a salesman who had guaranteed that she had the right to sell them, whereas they in fact belonged to Braun. Luckily Picard was able to settle the dispute, yet Ensor may have been less willing to let the matter go: in its composition, in fact, L’Appel de la sirène appears as a parody of Van Beers’ ‘Fearful woman’.

L’Appel de la sirène – already comic in itself – reveals all its sneering power when compared with Jan van Beers’s picture, which Ensor decided to parody with this work. In Van Beers’s work, an athletic man is offering his help to a scared, prudish woman. By reversing the roles, Ensor created a parody of Van Beers’ somewhat sentimental and risible picture. While Van Beers adopted a photographic style, Ensor has resorted to a seemingly naïve manner, reminiscent of caricature scenes. This reversal of roles might have been the fruit of an afterthought: Ensor’s face seems in fact to have been painted over another, probably female, face (X. Tricot, ibid., p. 344). By including his self-portrait, Ensor made L’Appel de la sirène something beyond mere parody, turning a popular photography cliché into a potentially symbolic image of the artist’s sense of threat and aggression from an audience who would take so long to recognise the value of his work: in classical mythology, mermaids – ‘sirènes’ – were, after all, deadly creatures.

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