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Prints and Authors in the Time of Manet

James Ensor
Belgian, 1860–1949

Cataclysms (Les Cataclysmes)

Etching, 1888
Gift of Barbara Sunderman Hoerner, 2000.54

Belgian Symbolist James Ensor took up printmaking perhaps in reaction to the hostility and incomprehension that regularly greeted his paintings. He depicted the same subjects in both media, offering sarcastic visions of humankind’s blind folly and of nature’s mocking cruelty. In this work aptly entitled Cataclysms, Ensor depicts a world where bizarre and violent forces reign. As shooting stars crash and heads and buttocks break wind on those below, two trains collide, waves crash against the coast, vile sea creatures rise up, and flames engulf a cathedral. Ensor’s fantasy farcically reveals the dark side of the human condition.