Benjamin Constant Paintings

1845 - 1902

Biography

After studying at the École des Beaux-Arts in Toulouse, a municipal scholarship enabled Constant to move to Paris in 1866 and enrol at the Beaux-Arts. The following year, he entered Cabanel’s atelier and in both 1868 and 1869 his name was put forward (unsuccessfully, as it transpired) for the Prix de Rome. When war broke out in 1870, he immediately enlisted; at the end of the war, he did not resume his studies, preferring to travel to Spain where, in Granada, he met Mariano Fortuny y Marsal. He then went to Morocco along with the ambassadorial contingent under Charles Tissot, and it was there that he abandoned historical subjects and turned to Orientalism. In 1876, he painted Portrait of Emmanuel Arago, one of whose daughters he subsequently married. Around 1880, he turned away from Orientalism in favour of portraiture and the decorative arts. For a period, he was the portraitist par excellence of English high society, painting among others a Portrait of Queen Victoria and portraits of Queen Alexandria and the Duke d’Aumale. He became acquainted with a group of American businessmen who invited him to visit New York, which he did in 1887 and 1888.

Constant was a regular Salon exhibitor from 1869, when he showed Hamlet and the King. He was awarded a bronze medal in 1875 for Moroccan Prisoners; silver in 1876 for Mohamet II Entering Constantinople and, in 1896, the medal of honour for Portrait of the Artist’s Son André. He was also awarded a bronze medal at the Exposition Universelle of 1878 – and elevated to the Légion d’Honneur. Constant taught at the Paris École des Beaux-Arts from 1883 and was appointed to a professorship at the Académie Julian in 1888. He became a member of the Institute in 1893 and was accorded the rank of commander of the Légion d’Honneur that same year.

Constant’s early years saw him paint sumptuous oriental canvases, bursting with colour and with a proliferation of detail. Later, he turned to portraiture, painting leading personalities in the USA and the crowned heads of Europe. After 1880, he was also responsible for decorative painting, including work on the ceiling of the banquet hall in the Hôtel de Ville in Paris Paris Convoking the World, the Belles Lettres and Sciences figures which adorn the Sorbonne, and paintings for the ceiling of the Opéra Comique.

As a teacher, Constant influenced a steady stream of pupils. As a society painter, his career was assured. His murals are good examples of the period. That said, he may well be remembered first and foremost as an Orientalist.

Museum and Gallery Holdings

Carcassonne: Les Chériffas
Florence (Uffizi): Self-portrait
Lille: Harem Interior, Morocco
Lunéville: Shereef’s Justice
Montreal (MBA): Alhambra on the Day following a Victory; Evening on the Terrace, Morocco (1879)
Mulhouse: Gifts from a Pasha; Oriental Interior; Greeting
Paris (Louvre): Final Rebels; Harem Justice; Portrait of the Artist’s Son André; Portrait of Alfred Chauchard
Perpignan: Too Late!
Toulouse (Capitole): Pope Urban II Entering Toulouse
Toulouse (MBA, Mus. des Augustins): Mohamet II Entering Constantinople, 29 May 1453; Portrait of a Renaissance Man

Available Artworks

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