Les Patineurs (The Skaters)

James Ensor – Les Patineurs (The Skaters), etching and aquatint

James Ensor (1869-1949), Les Patineurs (The Skaters), 1889, etching and aquatint;  signed in pencil and dated lower right, titled lower left, and countersigned verso. Delteil 65, Croquez 65, Taevernier 65, Elesh 65, second state (of 2). In excellent condition, printed in black ink with tone on a simili-Japan paper. The full sheet with full margins, 6 15/16 x 9 1/8, the sheet 14 x 18 7/8 inches.

A very fine impression.

Skating was a traditional subject for Flemish paintings and prints going back to Breugel, Avercamp and Essais van de Velde; and also among artists in Holland during Ensor’s time including Kruseman, Koekkoek, and Schelfhout. But perhaps the traditional theme of carefree partying skaters is not precisely what Ensor had in mind; the ominous figures in the left foreground, including one with a decidedly wolf-like profile,  and the scattering of fallen figures, strikes an off note. And virtually all the figures who have not fallen, extending far into space, seems to be on the verge of doing so.

Whatever the meaning of all this, the patterning of the skaters against the darkening winter sky and the bare trees creates one of Ensor’s most memorable scenes.