La Vengeance de Hop-Frog

james ENSOR

James Ensor (1860-1949), La Vengeance de Hop-Frog, etching, 1898, Taevernier 112, Elesh 115, second state (of 2), signed and dated in pencil lower right, with extensive dedication lower left (see below). In good condition, a few spots in upper margin away from image, 14 x 9 inches.

A fine early impression, printed on a thin cream/tan Japan paper.

Based on the Edgar Allan Poe story of the dwarf Hop-Frog, the king’s jester who takes revenge on the king and his cabinet for their cruelty. On the occasion of a fancy-dress ball the king and 7 ministers had disguised themselves, at Hop-Frog’s urging, as 8 chained orangutans. Working with his friend Tripetta the whole group was hooked and lifted up; then Hop-Frog torched the king’s costume, and the whole group went up in flames as Hop-Frog made a short oration, and disappeared through a window.

The print is dedicated in pencil, “Pour Madame Steyns, pour ses yeux d’agrment, ses pommettes roses et d’api, et son esprit charmant et de Gand, J. Ensor.” (For Miss Steyns, for her pleasant eyes, her pink cheekbones and flush/crisp, and her charming spirit and of Ghent.) “d’api” refers to “pomme d’api” and it’s a play on the word “pommettes”. It’s a reference to a kind of apple that’s crisp and flush. As for the rhyme of “charmant” and “Gand,” it’s probably meant to be cute, as in: she’s got charming spirit and she is also from Ghent. The idea here is this is meant to a clever, flirtatious rhyme; not 100% coherent. (I am indebted to colleague William Carl for this interpretation.)

Elsa de Cavel, a singer by profession, was married to the cultural figure and professor Desire Steyns, a creator of the Club du cinema of Ostend; through this and other groups the couple got to know various Ostend artists. Elsa apparently as evidenced by the dedication – had a close friendship with Ensor, who made a pastel of her, made a cover for an album in which she had collected prints and drawings, and dedicated a number of etchings to her. He provided her with a particularly fine impression of La Vengeance de Hop-Frog.