The current title of this painting, Comical Repast (Banquet of the Starved) (1918) reflects the two names it was given during James Ensor’s lifetime. Scholars have interpreted the enigmatic scene as a critique of the German occupation of Belgium during World War I, which the artist experienced firsthand. The grouping around the table evokes the Last Supper, but Christ and the Apostles are replaced by ill-behaved, grotesque and masked figures — some of Ensor’s favorite motifs. Their meager meal, including insects and a raw onion, may evoke the near-famine that Belgians endured. Ensor underscored the theme of mortality by referencing three of his works, depicting rowdy skeletons, in the background.
Photographed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.