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Tappan Talks: Material Realities and Intimate Engagement in Ensor’s Interiors

Monday, April 20, 2015
4:00 AM
180 Tappan Hall

“My calm ‘interiors,’ my ‘bourgeois salons,’ are all foyers of revolution,” wrote James Ensor of his oft-overlooked paintings from the1880s.  Despite this provocative characterization, these early works picture entirely-ordinary scenes of life in his family home on the Belgian coast: his mother taking tea, his sister tucking into a large meal, friends gathered around the piano. While they have largely been interpreted in the shadow of French Impressionism, this talk returns to the thick roots of their reception in Ensor’s native Belgium. The efficacy of these images there relied on a set of contested visions related to the image of the bourgeois interior that, by 1880, had become a site of artistic experimentation and cultural critique. At stake was a larger reorganization of terms for the relationship between painting and the material world, and the aesthetic issue of interiority. Rather than a foil to modernity’s “real work” in the public sphere, Ensor’s imagery introduces the interior as a crucial site upon which to assess the particularities of representation and public value of private experience at the fin de siècle.