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Three to see: London

From the carnivalesque paintings of James Ensor to the final days of some surreal sculpture in Regent’s Park

by Hannah McGivern, Javier Pes, Louisa Buck  |  6 January 2017
Three to see: London
James Ensor, The Intrigue (1890) (Antwerp, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten. Photo: KMSKA © www.lukasweb.be. Art in Flanders vzw. Hugo Maertens © DACS 2016)
Luc Tuymans first encountered the great, grotesque James Ensor painting which gives this exhibition its title when he was just a teenager and found it “a very fearful thing to look at”. Tuymans, who has curated Intrigue: James Ensor (until 29 January) at the Royal Academy of Arts, amply fulfils his aim to “reactivate” the odd, uncategorisable and also presciently expressionist work of his fellow Belgian. The ghoulish masked throng of Intrigue is one among many works in the exhibition in which Ensor brilliantly combines the festive with the macabre. In both his paintings and prints, skeletons jostle in elaborate headgear, brandish umbrellas and broomsticks, huddle around stoves, and even engage in an oral tussle over a herring. It’s no coincidence that Ensor’s home town of Ostend is renowned for hosting Belgium’s largest annual carnival.

With just a handful of paintings by the master of chiaroscuro himself, Beyond Caravaggio (until 15 January) explores the long shadow he cast over a generation of European painters. The darkened rooms of the National Gallery play host to dramatic religious and secular scenes by renowned artists in their own right, including Georges de la Tour and Jusepe de Ribera. There are also surprises, such as Cecco del Caravaggio—Caravaggio’s assistant, model and possible lover. The two Caravaggios on loan—The Taking of Christ from Dublin and Saint John the Baptist in the Wilderness from Kansas City—are worth the visit alone.

Hurry to Regent’s Park to catch the final weekend of the Frieze Sculpture Park, which closes on 8 January after its three-month run since the art fair last autumn. A classic, monumental work by Jean Dubuffet injects art brut into the park’s English Garden while Lynn Chadwick’s winged figure, Stranger III, looks at home under the trees. Other works that add a touch of the surreal include a big shiny apple courtesy of Claude Lalanne and Nairy Baghramian’s Treat, an oversized dog chew bone.  

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