One of Ensor's earliest fantastical paintings, this work recreates the familiar story of Saint Anthony battling a world of temptations (embodied by the woman at the far left). Ensor described his version of the narrative as one in which "the bizarre prevails" as Hell expels menacing sea creatures and grotesque monsters haphazardly joined together within a colorful, loosely rendered landscape.
Inspired by earlier renditions of the story by Flemish artists Hieronymus Bosch (1453–1516) and Pieter Brueghel (1525–1569), Ensor brought a fresh interpretation to a familiar subject by combining invented figures with wild brushstrokes and audacious color choices. On the basis of this painting, Alfred H. Barr, Jr., the founding director of The Museum of Modern Art, described Ensor as possibly "the boldest living painter" in 1887.
Director, Glenn Lowry: Here, Ensor depicts St. Anthony struggling against earthly temptations, a traditional subject, which had renewed interest among the Belgian avant-garde. Ensor conceives it in a way that's anything but traditional.
Artist, Terry Winters: The whole painting is organized as a kind of car pileup, and in the lower left there's a huge pile of images of overlapping depictions in a variety of representational styles, and different kinds of perspectives that are all happening across the surface. So it's almost as if there's a kaleidoscope of vistas happening across the painting all at once.
I think there's a wide variety of paint application across the entire surface, from very thin washes to encrusted passages that are literally Ensor squeezing tubes of paint out onto the canvas. And I think he was able to utilize paint itself as a subject, in a way that even his most radical contemporaries were never able to do.