Portrait of Elias Frise
James Ensor (1860-1949), Portrait of Elias Frise, etching, 1886, signed, titled (le’ancetre) and dated in pencil recto; also signed and titled verso, on laid japon nacre paper. References: Delteil 3, Elesh 3, second state (of 2). In very good condition, with wide margins (hinged at top to a backing sheet, not matted), 9 3/4 x 7 3/4, the sheet 16 x 11 1/2 inches.
Augusta Boogaerts (1850-1951), Ostend, a gift from the artist (with her initials AB in pencil verso)
Mira Jacob Wolfovska (1912-2004), Paris, with her blindstamp lower right margin (not in Lugt)
A fine impression, printed in black ink with plate tone.
The first state is without Ensor’s signature and date.
Elesh notes that this print has been variously identified as “Portrait d’un ecclesiastique, Portrait, and Viellard, but that it is a portrait of the Swedish botanist Elias Fries, made after an anonymous lithograph; and that the reasons Ensor made the print are open to conjecture. But we can offer some clues as to Ensor’s motivation.
Elias Magnus Frise (1794-1878), Swedish botanist, was the developer of the first system to classify fungi, a system still valid for many groups of fungi today. He also developed a system for classifying lichens. Wikipedia notes that his “taxonomy of mushrooms was influenced by Goethe and the German romantics”.
During his student years at the Academy Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels Ensor became acquainted with a number of anti-establishment artists including the symbolists Fernand Khnopff, and Willy Finch. He also found a kindred spirit in Theo Hannon, a dilettante painter and writer, and brother of Mariette Rousseau, a respected scientist and the wife of Ernest Rousseau, the rector of the Universite Libre de Bruxelles. He met often at the Rousseau house, meeting such luminaries as Felicien Rops, and a wide diversity of scientists and scholars of all sorts. Mariette introduced him to the microscope, and images from this experience can surely be seen in much of his later work. Most pertinent for our explication of the Frise portait: Mariette’s specialty was mycology (mushrooms), the same as Frise’s. So Ensor may well have made this portrait for Mariette, or at least in light of his relationship with Mariette.
Ensor called this print “Portrait d’un ecclesiastique, “Portrait”,and Viellard [old man]”; and in this print he titles it “Ancestor” – but it is quite typical of him to keep “outsiders” from knowing what he was up to, both in his imagery and his verbiage (cf. the recent small volume by Tom Jacobson, The Hidden World of James Ensor, for fascinating examples of images within images).
Frise’s cap appears to be decorated with flowers.