The current title of this painting reflects the two names it was given during 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 quoting three of his works depicting rowdy skeletons in the background.
Inscription: Signed (lower left): Ensor
Anton Kerschbaumer, Berlin (ca. 1917/18–d. 1931; commissioned from the artist along with two still lifes, probably Tricot 2009, nos. 491 and 497); his widow, Friederike Kerschbaumer, Berlin (1931–ca. 1937; sold to Ullstein); Leopold Ullstein, Berlin (ca. 1937–his emigration to Great Britain in 1939); his ex-wife, Johanna Ullstein, later Johanna Thomsen-Ullstein, Berlin, later Denmark, then New York (1939–at least 1948; consigned to Thannhauser); [Justin K. Thannhauser, New York, until 1949; sold for $1,050 on November 8 to Stern]; [Frederic A. Stern and Curt Valentin, New York, 1949; sold to de Groot]; Adelaide Milton de Groot, New York (1949–d. 1967; on loan to the Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, Conn., 1950–October 5, 1956; on loan to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, October 5, 1956–1967)
Städtische Kunsthalle Mannheim. "James Ensor," January 8–February 5, 1928, no. 40 (as "Gastmahl der Mageren," 1918, lent by a private collection, Berlin).
New York. Museum of Modern Art. "James Ensor," September 25–October 28, 1951, no. 60 (as "Banquet of the Starved," ca. 1925, lent by Miss Adelaide Milton de Groot, New York).
Hartford, Conn. Wadsworth Atheneum. "Twentieth Century Painting from Three Cities," October 19–December 4, 1955, no. 17 (as "Repas des maigres," ca. 1925, lent by Adelaide M. de Groot, Loan deposit, Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford).
New York. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. "Van Gogh and Expressionism," July 1–September 13, 1964, unnum. brochure (as "The Banquet of the Starved," 1925, lent by Adelaide Milton de Groot, New York).
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Summer Loan Exhibition: Paintings, Drawings, and Sculpture from Private Collections," July 8–September 6, 1966, no. 54 (lent by Adelaide Milton de Groot).
New York. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. "Rousseau, Redon, and Fantasy," May 30–September 8, 1968, unnumbered cat. (dated 1925).
Bronx Museum of the Arts. "Images of Horror and Fantasy," November 15–December 30, 1977, unnumbered cat. (as "The Meager Repast," ca. 1915).
New York. Grey Art Gallery and Study Center, New York University. "Changes in Perspective: 1880–1925," May 2–June 2, 1978, unnumbered cat. (p. 17, as "Le Repas des Maigres (The Meal of the Hungry)," 1915 or 1925).
Canberra. Australian National Gallery. "20th Century Masters from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York," March 1–April 27, 1986, unnumbered cat. (p. 35).
Brisbane. Queensland Art Gallery. "20th Century Masters from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York," May 7–July 1, 1986, unnumbered cat. (p. 35).
Munich. Kunsthalle der Hypo-Kulturstiftung. "James Ensor: Belgien um 1900," March 31–May 21, 1989, no. 43.
New York. Museum of Modern Art. "James Ensor," June 28–September 21, 2009, unnumbered cat. (p. 191).
Grégoire Le Roy. James Ensor. Brussels, 1922, p. 195, as "Repas comique," 1918.
Libby Tannenbaum. James Ensor. Exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art. New York, 1951, pp. 117, 127, no. 60, ill.
Paul Haesaerts. James Ensor. New York, 1959, p. 318, no. 140, p. 382, no. 434, ill., as "Banquet of the Starved," about 1925.
Louise Averill Svendsen. Rousseau, Redon, and Fantasy. Exh. cat., Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. New York, 1968, unpaginated, ill. (color), dates it to 1925; notes the similarity to Ensor's compositions of the 1890s: "The Judges," "The Bad Doctors," and "The Dangerous Cooks"; identifies the standing figure at far right as a waiter and the figures in the left foreground as a starving mother and child; interprets the scene as a "fantastic parable of human folly"; notes the inclusion in the background of Ensor's painting "Skeletons Disputing a Herring" (1891) and two skeleton images, which she dates to 1903.
Mahonri Sharp Young. "Letter from U.S.A.: The Sports in the Arts." Apollo 88 (August 1968), p. 142.
Theodor Kiefer. Letter to the Curator of Modern European Paintings, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. May 27, 1974, dates it to 1915 and calls it "Repast of the Hungry Ones"; asserts that German artist Anton Kerschbaumer commissioned this work and two still lifes from Ensor during World War I; identifies the seated figure at center as Goethe and one of the figures to the right as Kerschbaumer, "who is trying to impress on him the requirements of the situation;" interprets the scene as an expression of Ensor's disdain for the Germans; states that he interviewed Erich Heckel and Mrs. [Anton] Kerschbaumer and that she sold the three pictures during World War II.
Theodor Kiefer. J. Ensor. Recklinghausen, 1976, pp. 122–23, no. 83, ill., dates the work to 1915 and states that Anton Kerschbaumer commissioned it along with two still lifes [probably Tricot 2009, nos. 491 and 497]; characterizes it as a critique of the German occupation of Belgium during World War I; compares the composition to depictions of the Last Supper; identifies the main figure as Goethe and the figure at far right in a suit as Kerschbaumer.
Gert Schiff. Images of Horror and Fantasy. Exh. cat., Bronx Museum of the Arts. Bronx, 1977, unpaginated.
Joshua Friedman inChanges in Perspective: 1880–1925. Exh. cat., Grey Art Gallery and Study Center, New York University. New York, 1978, p. 17, ill., interprets the work as a response to a serious food shortage in Belgium during World War I; identifies the figures around the table as a German general and his soldiers; calls it a "modern Last Supper".
Michael Lloyd et al. in20th Century Masters from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Exh. cat., Australian National Gallery. Canberra, 1986, pp. 6, 8, 35, ill. (color), dates it 1915; describes the figures around the table as engaged in "vomiting, murder, seduction, and flattery".
Lydia Schoonbaert inJames Ensor: Belgien um 1900. Exh. cat., Kunsthalle der Hypo-Kulturstiftung. Munich, 1989, pp. 142–43, no. 43, ill. (color).
Xavier Tricot. James Ensor: Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings. London, 1992, vol. 2, p. 485, no. 492, ill., dates it 1918; calls it "Le Banquet du Mourant (Le Repas des Maigres)," translated to English as "The Dying Man's Banquet (The Meal of the Lean)".
Francine-Claire Legrand. Ensor, la mort et la charme, un autre Ensor. Antwerp, 1993, pp. 27, 34–35, colorpl. 29, ill. p. 35, calls it "Le banquet des affamés" and "Le repas des maigres" and dates it 1915; identifies the central figure as a mask of Goethe; notes that the figure holding a rose recalls Ensor's close friend Mariette Rousseau; observes that the vomiting figure wears a Harlequin's costume and a tricorne; suggests that the figure at bottom right next to the kerchiefed woman may be a caricature of Kerschbaumer.
Catherine Fache inEnsor, la mort et le charme, un autre Ensor. Antwerp, 1993, p. 264.
Richard Cork. A Bitter Truth: Avant-Garde Art and the Great War. Exh. cat., Berlin Altes Museum. New Haven, 1994, pp. 98–99, colorpl. 122, describes the central figure as a "medal-bedecked national leader" and interprets the picture as a satirical commentary on "the generals, bureaucrats, and profiteers who thrive on the war at a comfortable distance from the Front".
Konstanze Wetzel-Kerschbaumer. Anton Kerschbaumer, 1885–1931. Munich, 1994, p. 137, under no. W 1923/6, identifies this work in the background of Kerschbaumer's gouache "The Pink Room with Ensor's Painting" (1923; private collection), showing a room in Kerschbaumer's Berlin residence.
Michel Draguet. James Ensor, ou la fantasmagorie. [Paris], 1999, fig. 217 (color), calls it "Le Banquet du Mourant" and "Le Repas des Maigres" and dates it 1918.
Blair Hartzell inJames Ensor. Exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art. New York, 2009, p. 191, colorpl. 95.
Laurence Madeline et al. Ensor: James (art) Ensor. Exh. cat., Musée d'Orsay. Paris, 2009, unpaginated front matter, pp. 185, 260, no. 96, ill. (color and black and white).
Xavier Tricot. James Ensor: The Complete Paintings. Ostfildern, 2009, p. 354, no. 499, ill. (color), calls it "The Comical Meal (The Banquet/Meal of the Lean; The Banquet/Meal of the Starving)" and dates it 1917 or 1918; notes the existence of an old photograph (present location unknown) bearing the annotation in Ensor's handwriting: "Repas comique, 1917".
This work was included in the exhibition "Symbolism in Painting," organized by the Museum of Modern Art's Department of Circulating Exhibitions, which traveled throughout the United States, September 22, 1947–December 24, 1948. The painting was lent to the exhibition through the gallery of Fine Arts Associates, New York.
The picture was lent to the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and placed on view within the permanent collection, September 20, 1976–May 1977.
Artist: James Ensor (Belgian, Ostend 1860–1949 Ostend)Date: 1888Medium: Etching on zinc; first state; hand-colored with red, blue, green, and yellow watercolor on Arches laid paperAccession: 1981.1232.1On view in:Not on view