The Gamblers (Les Jouers)

James Ensor (1860-1949), The Gamblers (Les Jouers), etching and drypoint, 1895, signed, titled and dated, also signed verso, in pencil [also signed in the plate lower left]. References: Elesh 94, Delteil 92, Taevernier 93, only state. In excellent condition, printed on a simile Japan wove paper,  the full sheet, 4 9/16 x 6 1/4, the sheet 9 1/4 x 11 1/2 inches.

A fine impression, with burr from the drypoint work particularly evident on the hand of the player at the right and visible elsewhere; with some plate tone overall, a bit stronger upper left and right.

Ensor was familiar with gambling from his exposure to the world of casinos in his seaside home of Ostend (and indeed had exhibited at the Kursaal d’Ostende in 1882-83).  The eminent Ensor scholar Patrick Florizoone has pointed out the ambivalent attitude of the law toward gambling in Belgium toward the latter years of the 19th Century, and also noted that a well-known Ostend politician (Montangie) was made destitute in April 1892 as a result of a gambling scandal. Since Les Jouers is based on a drawing made in 1883, it is plausible that this is what Ensor had in mind when depicting the losing gambler at the center of this composition.