The figures represented in this etching reference a story written by Ensor’s friend, the author and critic Eugène Demolder called Les Contes d’Yperdamme, in which the character of Saint Fridolin appears. A flute-playing Ensor (Fridolin) makes Demolder (Gragapança) dance to his tune, an ironic commentary on the roles of artist and the critic. The depiction of Ensor playing music is not, however, merely fanciful. Demolder commented about his friend:
'…if Ensor had not been a painter, he would have been a musician. He always carries a tin-whistle, drawing bright, dancing sounds from it and there is nothing more gay than to see him, his long, thin fingers blocking the holes of his instrument, executing multiple variations with the air of a mocking satyr.’ (E. Demolder, La Libre Critique, 6 January 1895, p. 120-121; quoted in X. Tricot, James Ensor. The Complete Prints, F. Deceuninck, Roeselare, 2010, p. 189).
Ensor’s activities as a musician and composer are not widely known. In 1911 he completed a ballet called La Gamme d’Amour, which was finally premiered in 1924 in the Royal Flemish Opera in Antwerp. His approach was typically unorthodox as he played from memory, collaborating with other musicians such as Georges Vraimont (see lot 73), who scored his musical arrangements for symphonic orchestra.