Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant (French, 1845–1902)
Seated Arabs, 1877
Oil on canvas, 9 x 13 in.
Signed and dated lower right: Benj. Constant 77
Constant’s essentially Romantic vision of the Orient reflected the considerable influence of Eugène Delacroix, specifically his rich palette and loose brushwork. In 1866 Benjamin-Constant entered the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris and the following year became a student in Alexandre Cabanel’s atelier. After fighting in the Franco-Prussian War (1870–71), he left for Spain, touring the ancient Moorish cities, where he met the Orientalist Mariano Fortuny y Marsal. Inspired by Fortuny and Delacroix, Constant traveled to Morocco in 1872 in the company of the French ambassador and painter Georges Clairin. There he acquired numerous Islamic artifacts, rugs, and costumes, which appear in the many Orientalist paintings he exhibited at the Salon throughout the 1870s.
Although best remembered as a Romantic Orientalist painter, Benjamin-Constant was also a successful portrait painter, particularly in England and America, where he often traveled; his famous sitters included Queen Victoria, Lord Dufferin, Jay Gould, and Anthony J. Drexel. A member of the Institut from 1883, he was made Commander of the Legion of Honor in 1894.