About this

Object details

Adam and Eve Expelled from Paradise
206 × 245 cm
Inventory number: 
lower left: Ensor 1887

More about this work

Study of light
This spectacular work is a very large painting by James Ensor’s standards. The explosion of light and colour is caused by an angel. Not just any angel: in this scene from the Book of Genesis, it is the Archangel Gabriel himself who is obeying God’s command to drive the very first human beings, Adam and Eve, from the Garden of Eden. The moment, according to the Bible, when human history began. In Ensor’s version, it is a low-key start: the two principal characters are small, inconspicuous creatures. Naked.
In April 1887, around the time he began this work, Ensor wrote a letter confirming that the spectacle of the light was the most important thing to him: ‘I hardly leave the house lately.… I had started work on Adam and Eve Expelled from Paradise, now it has become The Angel Announcing the Birth of Christ to the Shepherds.
This indecision is horrible. How the painting will end up, I don’t know. I am satisfied with the sky, which sparkles. The angel has left an emeraldgreen trail there. The canvas is large and completely engrosses me.’
Ensor took inspiration from a variety of predecessors. He found the distinctive composition with the tiny human figures, for instance, in an 1827 collection of lithographs by the English artist John Martin, illustrating John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost. The two figures themselves were drawn from etchings by Rembrandt, Gabriel’s gesture is found in Michelangelo’s creation of Adam in the Sistine Chapel, and the sword that flashes with lightning recalls Rubens’ Last Judgement.
The small, pink shapes of three giant mammoths appear on the horizon – a significant inclusion, as knowledge of prehistory grew steadily throughout the nineteenth century, to the horror of those who believed that the Bible was the only true and literal story of human history. Ensor is thus casting doubt here on the Bible in what is essentialy a study of light.

Acquisition history

purchase: Albin Lambotte, 1927

Copyright and legal

This image may be downloaded for free. For professional use or more information, please fill out the contact form. Read more here.