After arriving in Paris in 1882, Louis Anquetin studied at the Atelier Cormon, where he met and befriended Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. The frenetically innovative Aquetin was, in Lautrec’s words, “the glory of the studio.”
Both artists focused on la vie moderne, particularly the nocturnal life of Paris. This painting (1888) depicts an unescorted woman walking through the garden of Élysée Montmartre, a dance hall that predated the Moulin de la Galette and the Moulin Rouge, both locations also painted by Lautrec. Who she is remains a mystery, but her unusual printed dress and extravagant hat, more costume than fashion, suggest she might be an off-duty performer. In contrast to the female figures who lurk among the trees in the background, Anquetin’sélégante appears at ease in the spotlight, not a visitor but a part of this popular entertainment spot.
An Elegant Woman at the Élysée Montmartre was photographed in the Art Institute Chicago.
Some of you might be familiar with the name of Belgian painter James Ensor from the 1994 song by They Might Be Giants, “Meet James Ensor” — but now you have the chance to see and learn about one of his most famous paintings!
In Ensor’s oil painting from 1888, A group of masked figures confronts the figure of Death, centrally situated and draped in a white color that infiltrates the entire picture. Composed of masks adorned with drapery, hats, and even blue glasses, the arrangement of figures recalls Ensor’s earlier still-life compositions. The ubiquitous masks in Ensor’s work were likely based on those sold in his family’s curiosity shop a few floors below his studio. He explained, “The mask means to me: freshness of color, sumptuous decoration, wild unexpected gestures, very shrill expressions, exquisite turbulence.” In this painting, the fantastical masked inventions appear to come alive and challenge Death—perhaps a reflection of the artist’s preoccupation with mortality and his hope that he might prevail against its inevitable dominion.
Masks Confronting Death is on view as part of the permanent collection in the Painting and Sculpture I, Gallery 1, 5th Floor at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC.