In 1904, James Ensor published a portfolio of etchings entitled “The Seven Deadly Sins,” a series of satirical prints based upon the traditional Christian themes of morality. The suite includes seven individual etchings illustrating each sin, as well as a frontispiece—“Pêches Capitaux Dominés Par La Mort”—in which a skeletal angel of death hovers menacingly above seven hideous figures, allegories for the sins ridiculed therein.
The present work is an extraordinary hand-colored proof of this frontispiece. In it, the artist has made extensive use of watercolor and gouache over the original etching, reworking the image in remarkably vibrant colors. His hand can also be seen in the small and thoughtful details he has brought to bear on his figures, which bring their grotesque personas into sharp focus.
He adds shades of red and pink to ruddy their cheeks and noses, satirizing their gluttonous, temporal and passionate pursuits. He accentuates their wrinkles and ugliness with lines of brown and red hashing. And, with subtle shading, he adds depth and dimension to the face of death, imbuing him with even greater menace. Juxtaposed against a lush, cobalt blue background, the figures vibrate with energy in a truly captivating scene.
As noted by writer and Ensor scholar Eugene Demolder, in Xavier Tricot’s “James Ensor: The Complete Prints,” the artist’s hand-colored prints have “a particularly singular brilliance…[acquiring] warm, gilded tones that make them particularly precious.”
This work is signed by the artist and inscribed verso, “proof enhanced by my hand.” On its front, it is signed and dedicated to Albert Croquez, who was both a scholar of Ensor’s work and his dear friend. The translated dedication reads, “I am offering these nasty sins to Albert Croquez and I wish them to be softer.”
“Pêches Capitaux Dominés Par La Mort” as well as Ensor’s “Les Romains de la Décadence” will be offered in Freeman’s Nov. 7 Modern and Contemporary Art sale. This week, they are on display by appointment only at Lyon and Turnbull’s London offices.