© President and Fellows of Harvard College
Gallery Text

The outstanding Belgian master of macabre, spiritual, and satirical subjects, Ensor made sexual temptation the principal subject of this enigmatic image. At the center of the motley scene of disorder and confusion are two full-length female figures. Swarming around them in the claustrophobic space are masked, caricatured, skeletal, and zoomorphic male faces in close view—a favorite compositional device of Ensor’s. Most of the faces gawk obsessively at the two women. In the bottom third of the composition, the monstrous heads face the viewer and appear to surge forward, suggesting a chaotic procession moving in our direction. Masks made for Asian theater or the local carnival were a primary source of inspiration for Ensor, who admired them “for their freshness of color, sumptuous decoration, wild unexpected gestures, very shrill expressions, exquisite turbulence.” In keeping with the overheated sexual ardor of the male figures, the palette used for the heads is dominated by garish reds and pinks.

Identification and Creation
Object Number
James Ensor, Belgian (Ostend, Belgium 1860 - 1949 Ostend, Belgium)
Other Titles
Original Language Title: Tentation
Alternate Title: Femmes en Promenade
Work Type
after 1900
Physical Descriptions
Crayon and brown ink on off-white laid paper
23.5 x 19.7 cm (9 1/4 x 7 3/4 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • Signed: lower right corner, black ink over black crayon: Ensor
  • label: handwritten in black ink; partially torn paper; affixed to the back of the original frame (in curatorial object file): [...] Tentation
  • plaque: oval; affixed to upper right of the back of the original frame: Maison Manteau Rue des deux Eglises, 29 Bruxelles
  • plaque: formerly affixed to back of frame: PROPRIETE DE DANIEL BRANTON 17.2.1962
  • label: label affixed to the back of the original frame (in curatorial object file): LE CADRE; SOCIÉTE ANONYME; ANCIENNE MAISON MANTEAU; 29, RUE DES DEUX ÉGLISES; BRUXELLES
  • label: in blue crayon; affixed to the back of the original frame (in curatorial object file): 2
  • label: handwritten in black pen; green border on rectangular label with angled edges, partially torn; affixed to the back of the original frame (in curatorial object file): [...] Willy? [...]
Leopold Branton, Antwerp (by 1940); (to his wife, Josephine?); to Daniel Branton, Lexington (1962-2014), gift; of Daniel and Lana Branton to Harvard Art Museums, 2014.

The above information is based on correspondence between Daniel Branton and Stephan Wolohojian. Professor Branton believes that the drawing was left in Antwerp with friends for safekeeping when the family fled before the Nazi occupation of 1940. Leopold Branton later returned to Antwerp to recover his art collection.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Gift of Daniel and Lana Branton in memory of Poldek Branton
© Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SABAM, Brussels
Accession Year
Object Number
European and American Art
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Publication History

Franklin Einspruch, Fuse Visual Art Review: A Pair of Drawing Shows at the Harvard Art Museums, The Arts Fuse ([e-journal], June 9, 2016)

Exhibition History

Flowers of Evil: Symbolist Drawings, 1870–1910, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 05/21/2016 - 08/14/2016

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of European and American Art at am_europeanamerican@harvard.edu