Three More Portraits by Benjamin-Constant at the Musée des Augustins

1. Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant (1845-1902)
Beethoven’s Mask, 1887
Oil on canvas - 54 x 42 cm
Toulouse, Musée des Augustins
Photo : Musée des Augustins

11/11/11 - Acquisitions - Toulouse, Musée des Augustins - The Musée des Augustins owns an extensive group of works by Benjamin-Constant, a Parisian artist who went to Toulouse to study art. The highlight of this collection is the famous Mehmet II Entering Constantinople in 1453, presented at the Salon in 1876 but although he excelled in illustrating Oriental themes and as a brilliant decorator, he also gained fame for his skills as a portrait artist. This is the facet chosen by the museum for the acquisition of three very different portraits in 2011 [1]

The first one reveals the features of a dead person and plays on sculptural effects : it is in fact Beethoven’s Mask (1887) (ill. 1), also represented by Mariano Fortuny in some sketches. The crown of laurel, symbolizing glory, replaces the composer’s impetuous locks, with the red background and the shadows on the wall adding a theatrical effect. This painting evokes the artist’s ties to the world of music which he also represented in Beethoven. Moonlight Sonata (Palais des Beaux-Arts, Lille) and, of course, the ceiling of the Opéra Comique in Paris.
Another portrait, this time very much alive, is that of a Young Bearded Man, or The Albino (ill. 2) ; his pale face, piercing, almost provoking eyes, are enhanced by the monochrome palette of browns ; seen face-on, he is looking directly at the viewer. The rapid strokes would seem to indicate that this is the portrait of a friend, artist or writer, more spontaneous than would appear in a commissioned work. As Axel Hémery points out, "there is nothing similar, either in the museum, or in the rest of the artist’s production."

2. Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant (1845-1902)
Young Bearded Man, or The Albino
Oil on canvas - 72 x 60 cm
Toulouse, Musée des Augustins
Photo : Musée des Augustins

3. Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant (1845-1902)
Self-portrait, 1892
Gouache - 19 x 28 cm
Toulouse, Musée des Augustins
Photo : Musée des Augustins

Finally, a self-portrait in gouache dates back to 1892 (ill. 3). The artist is staring at us calmly, unlike the one held at the Uffizi Gallery dating from 1901 (about a year before his death) in which he seems moody and evasive, with sunken, barely visible, eyes as he stands sideways in a dimly lit atmosphere. The 1892 gouache now joins other family portraits held at the Augustins, particularly that of histwo sons (1899), André and Emmanuel, as well as another portrait of Emmanuel by himself and the portrait ofArago, Benjamin-Constant’s father-in-law. All of these likenesses will be presented to the public in a monograph exhibition which the museum will devote to the painter in 2013 or 2014.

French version

Bénédicte Bonnet Saint-Georges, vendredi 11 novembre 2011


[1] We wish to thank Axel Hémery for the information he provided on the subject.

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