Nick’s cohort of officers makes its way across Belgium into Brussels. “When we drove into the city’s main boulevards, their sedate nineteenth-century self-satisfaction, British troops everywhere, made our cortege somewhat resemble Ensor’s Entry of Christ into Brussels, with soldiers, bands and workers’ delegation.” [MP 174/169-170]
Nick is referring to James Ensor’s huge and arresting painting, also known as Christ’s Entry into Brussels in 1889, now in the Getty Museum. Because of copyright limitations, we show only a thumbnail image; go to the Getty, or at least to the Getty website, to appreciate the energy of this painting or just to search the canvas for the “Colman’s ‘Mustart’ advertisement spelt wrong.” [MP 174/169-170]
Ensor was, before Rene Magritte, perhaps Belgium’s most well-known modernist painter. He was a controversial figure in art due to his radical expressionist tendencies before the term Expressionist came to describe a recognized movement in the twentieth century. Christ’s Entry into Brussels was stiff medicine even among the coterie that Ensor formed around him, known as Les XX, and, hence, was not exhibited publicly until 1929, thirty years after its creation. The painting depicts a Christ almost invisible amidst a throng of workers, clerics, politicians, vagrants, revelers and grotesques, deliberately rendered by Ensor in a rude hand that simultaneously points back toward Pieter Brughel and forward to the likes of George Grosz and Otto Dix.
Nick’s evocation of Ensor’s vision does not, we think, place the emphasis on the Allied officers’ role as saviors of Belgium, but rather suggests the near invisibility of their arrival amidst the churning chaos during the wind-down of the war.