About this

Object details

The Intrigue
89,5 × 149 cm
Inventory number: 
lower right: Ensor/ 1890

More about this work

Satirical masks
This is one of the best known and most reproduced works by the mask painter James Ensor. It belongs to the many ambiguous ‘masquerades’ that appear in his work from 1888 onwards. The object of derision here is the man in the middle with the top hat, who is shrinking into his coat. He is surrounded by women who are gesturing and pointing at him or grinning mockingly. Is the target of this motley crew’s scorn some kind of philanderer? Or, on the contrary, a pathetic cuckold? Is he under some woman’s thumb? Perhaps Ensor is simply depicting a group of carnival-goers? Or could this be a wedding procession – a source of ribaldry in lots of cultures?
The exaggerated facial expressions as well as the colourful costumes and headgear with which they are associated led Ensor to adopt sardonic carnival masks as a key motif in his work. As he himself once said, ‘To me the mask means freshness of tone, acute expression, sumptuous decor, great unexpected gestures, exquisite turbulence.’ When creating a work such as this, he often staged scenes with real masks, costumes and accessories. The Intrigue is composed with a dynamic group of characters shown half-length and linked by their poses and gestures. While this is highly unusual for nineteenth-century painting, we do find it, for instance, in the work of one of Ensor’s illustrious predecessors, namely Rubens.

Acquisition history

Restoration sponsored by Exxon Mobil, 2005
donation from: groep museumvrienden 1921, 1921

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