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Benjamin-Constant (1845–1902), a leading figure of Orientalist painting under the French Third Republic, is herein given his due consideration for the first time. Memories of his travels to Spain and Morocco left their mark on him: his ostentatious studio overflowed with Hispano-Moresque objects. A descendant of Delacroix, whom he admired, this brilliant colourist conjured up a world of Orientalism along the lines of Henri Regnault, Mariano Fortuny, Georges Clairin and Jean-Paul Laurens, whose works appear in these pages for contextual comparison.
Seizing upon stereotypes of a colonial “Orient”suspended in time, Benjamin-Constant set scenes of dispassionate odalisques and fierce-looking Moors onto huge, architectural-scale compositions. His history paintings, drawn from Byzantium and the Bible, are the culmination of his ventures into Orientalism. A sparkling palette sets off the wonderful chromatic qualities of his stunning works.
Benjamin-Constant stands out as one of his era’s great painters of decorative cycles, including his work in Paris on the Opéra-Comique, the Gare d’Orsay, and the Hôtel de Ville, and in Toulouse on the Capitole. He advanced the art of the society portrait with commissions from wealthy patrons. His reputation as a portraitist—including of Queen Victoria—and as an instructor at the Académie Julian, where many foreign artists studied under him, earned him international renown, especially in England, the United States and Canada.
Lavishly illustrated, this first monograph on the work of Benjamin-Constant brings together an international team of leading specialists to consider hitherto unpublished research on the life of a famous yet little-known artist, in his studio and at the Salon, from the Académie des Beaux-Arts to the circles of foreign collectors. Above all, the mirages and mistruths of a dreamed up Near East are studied from the perspectives of contemporary historians and revisited through the eyes of some of today’s feminist artists.
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