CONSTANT, Benjamin
(b. 1845, Paris, d. 1902, Paris)

Biography

Jean-Joseph-Benjamin Constant, French painter and printmaker. He spent his youth in Toulouse, where he studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. A municipal scholarship enabled him to enter the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris in 1866. By the following year he was a student in the Ecole de la Rue Bonaparte under the history painter Alexandre Cabanel, and he competed unsuccessfully for the Prix de Rome in 1868 and 1869.

His first Salon exhibit, Hamlet and the King (1869; Musée d'Orsay, Paris), established his reputation as a colourist. Constant submitted a number of other traditional history paintings, such as Samson and Delilah (1872; untraced). During the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71), however, he travelled to Spain, visiting Madrid, Toledo, Cordoba and Granada, where he came under the influence of the Orientalist painter Mariano Fortuny y Marsal.

He then followed his mentor Charles Tissot to Morocco. From that point on, he abandoned history painting for Orientalist subjects. At the Salon of 1875, he received a third place medal for his painting, Moroccan Prisoners, and in the following year, a second place medal for his Entry of Mohamett II in Constantinople. In 1876, he also produced a portrait of Emmanuel Arago, and then married one of his sitter's daughters.

At the Exposition Universelle of 1878, he obtained a third place medal and later that year was decorated with the medal of the Legion d'Honneur. By 1880, he moved away from Orientalist subjects for portraiture and more decorative works. He was given the commission to paint the ceiling of the Hotel de Ville in Paris with a composition depicting Paris Conquering the World. He also received commissions to paint the allegorical figures of les belles lettres et les sciences for the Sorbonne, and the ceiling of the Opera-Comique. Later, he painted the portraits of Queen Victoria and Queen Alexandra. For much of the latter part of the 19th century, he was the favourite portraitist of English high-society.