The bizarre scene in this meticulously crafted etching is based on a short story written in 1845 by Edgar Allan Poe, one of Ensor’s favorite authors. The story recounts the revenge of a court jester, a crippled dwarf named Hop-Frog, against an unjust king and his seven corrupt ministers. On the occasion of a masquerade ball, Hop-Frog persuades the king, who loves practical jokes, to play a trick on his guests by disguising himself and his ministers as orangutans. Ensor has depicted the story’s final scene, in which Hop-Frog arranges to have the ministers and the king chained together in a ring, hooked up to a chandelier, and hoisted above the party. Hop-Frog then uses a torch to set the eight on fire in full view of the horrified crowd.
The theme of class injustice that Ensor treated here is one that resonates in many of his paintings and prints. His use of grotesque allegory was meant to satirize the social and political foibles of his day. As a printmaker, Ensor worked mainly in etching, a technique well suited to his penchant for fine linear detail. Occasionally, as here, he hand-colored his etchings, not only to embellish the image but also to clarify its structure and enhance the legibility of the narrative.
Publication excerpt from From MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)
This allegorical image on the theme of class injustice is based on an 1845 short story by Edgar Allen Poe, one of Ensor's favorite authors. It illustrates the revenge of a court jester, a crippled dwarf named Hop-Frog, against an unjust king and his seven corrupt ministers. On the occasion of a masquerade ball, the king is persuaded by the jester to trick his guests by disguising himself and his ministers as chained orangutans. Ensor pictured the final scene of the story, when Hop-Frog has caught the eight "orangutans" on a chandelier hook, hoisted them above the party, and used a torch to set them on fire.
Gallery label from New to the Print Collection: Matisse to Bourgeois, June 13, 2012–January 7, 2013.