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James Ensor
The Dangerous Cooks
private collection
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by Jerry Saltz

The art gods cooked up something special for James Ensor. This avant-garde painterís decisive moment came in a salon show in Brussels in 1887 (the same year the gods had Van Gogh meet Gauguin). Ensor was a co-founder of a group called "the Twenty," living with his mother at 27, and doing all right in his native Belgium. That year, he exhibited a breakthrough series of large, smoky drawings of Christ in modern-day settings. As fate had it, they were installed near Georges Seuratís epic, world-changing A Sunday on La Grande Jatte. Reactions to Ensorís work were mixed at best. Many critics and viewers, including his artist friends, enamored of Seuratís ideas and methods, found Ensorís religious subject matter and murky drawings "fatally retrograde." (The criticism set him off; he referred to "bizarre Pointillists operating behind the scenes," of being "surrounded by hostility" and "mean vile attacks." He condemned Impressionists as "superficial daubers suffused with traditional recipes.")