Ensor’s web-footed Death hovering over a shrieking crowd of people in La Mort poursuivant le tropeau des humains is a comical take on the traditional iconography of the Triumph of Death. As in the medieval tradition of the Danse macabre, he is the great leveller, who reaps all of humanity, irrespective of status, wealth, power or moral virtue. The crowd includes all of society: men and women, soldiers, monks, judges, kings and peasants.
In his depiction of this teeming mass, Ensor took inspiration from Edgar Allen Poe’s tale The Man of the Crowd, a vision of mankind blinded by mundane concerns and desires. With his characteristically savage humour, Ensor turns this into a burlesque comedy of Death: a glutton, similar to the figure seen in Les Sept Péchés Capitaux (see lot 77), is vomiting on passers-by; behind him two women feast… Mankind, distracted by vice and excess, is oblivious to the mortal threat, but will soon be united by the inevitable fate that awaits us all. The narrow street recalls La Musique rue de Flandre (see lot 7), but instead of a formal procession, the crowd uncontrollably rushes forward; an endless mass of humanity hurtling towards an unavoidable fate.