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 (Netherlandish, 1453–1516) and Pieter Brueghel (Flemish, 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.
Gallery label from James Ensor, June 28–September 21, 2009.