Intrigue depicts the harassment of the artist's sister
Mariette and her Chinese fiancé by the villagers of Ostend,
Belgium. Although this painting was inspired by a specific personal
experience, it also makes a profound statement about the ugliness
of prejudice and discrimination.
Mariette's romance with Tan Hée Tseu, an art dealer who
lived in Berlin, caused a great scandal in the rural town. When
Tan appeared in Ostend before the wedding, the villagers plagued
the couple with racist gossip.
In Ensor's painting, the figures are placed close to the picture
plane as if they are on a stage, dramatically confronting the
viewer. Mariette, the blue-haired, green-capped woman, and Tan,
the man in the black top hat, are in the center of the crowd. Mariette
holds Tan's arm protectively, while he seems to withdraw into the
collar of his coat. They are surrounded by grotesque gossipers who,
safe in their carnival masks, have come to taunt them. A heckler
in the foreground carries a Chinese doll and points an accusing
finger at Tan.
Although in some instances masks can be cheerful and festive, in
Ensor's work they represent the dark side of human nature. Here
they seem to reflect the true personalities of the people who wear
them, showing them to be cruel, "ugly" people. However, Mariette
and Tan, like their tormentors, are also in masquerade. The mask
serves two functions: it can protect the vulnerable and also hide
the identity of the vicious.
Rather than depicting things as they actually appear, Ensor creates
a sense of fantasy and caricature by exaggerating
colors, lines and forms. He contrasts bright colors--reds, blues,
greens--with whites, browns, and blacks. This combination of colors
creates an intense, vibrant effect. Ensor's nervous brushstrokes
move wildly in various directions, adding to the tense mood of the
painting. The thickly painted sky is turbulent and full of doom,
adding to the uneasy feeling of the crowd.
representation of a person that exaggerates or distorts certain
recognizable features, often concentrating on personal as well as
part of the picture that appears to be closest to the viewer.
surface of a picture.
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