Comical Repast (Banquet of the Starved)

Artist: James Ensor (Belgian, Ostend 1860–1949 Ostend)

Date: ca. 1917–18

Medium: Oil on canvas

Dimensions: 45 1/2 x 57 1/4 in. (115.6 x 145.4 cm)

Classification: Paintings

Credit Line: Bequest of Miss Adelaide Milton de Groot (1876–1967), 1967

Accession Number: 67.187.68

Rights and Reproduction: © 2018 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


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.