Benjamin-Constant (Jean-Joseph-Benjamin Constant) (French, Paris 1845–1902 Paris)
possibly ca. 1886
Oil on canvas
47 1/2 x 31 1/2 in. (120.7 x 80 cm)
Gift of J. E. Gombos, 1959
Not on view
Painted in glinting red and gold tones, this exotic figure attests to Benjamin-Constant’s esteem for Delacroix; following in the older artist’s footsteps, he had traveled to Spain and Morocco in the early 1870s, a voyage that yielded inspiration, and props, for many of his pictures. Here, Judith, the Old Testament heroine who saved her besieged city by beheading the general Holofernes, appears as an avenging beauty, proudly bearing her sword. Benjamin-Constant returned repeatedly to this dramatic subject, including another version shown at the Salon of 1886.
Inscription: Signed (upper left): Benj-Constant
Hammeraly family; Mrs. Oliver Crocker Sturns, Boston; her brother, Mr. Smith, Vermont; his son, Curtiss R. Smith, Vermont (sold to Gombos); J. E. Gombos, Upper Montclair, N.J. (until 1959)
San Jose Museum of Art. "Americans Abroad: Painters of the Victorian Era," December 5, 1975–January 10, 1976, unnumbered cat.
Toulouse. Musée des Augustins. "Benjamin-Constant: Merveilles et Mirages de l'Orientalisme," October 4, 2014–January 4, 2015, no. 70.
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. "Benjamin-Constant: Marvels and Mirages of Orientalism," January 31–May 31, 2015, unnumbered cat.
Charles Sterling and Margaretta M. Salinger. French Paintings: A Catalogue of the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Vol. 2, XIX Century. New York, 1966, pp. 206–7, ill., comment that it seems to portray Judith after the beheading of Holofernes; mention two other versions of Judith by the artist [see Notes], as well as a possible third version exhibited in the Salon of 1886; note that the plaster frame is inscribed in Arabic "There is no God but God" and is probably original.
Art d'Orient, tableaux orientalistes. Hôtel Drouot, Paris. May 14, 2001, p. 40, under no. 94, notes that Benjamin-Constant painted numerous versions of this theme.
19th Century European Art. Christie's, London. June 17, 2004, p. 119, under no. 105.
Samuel Montiège inBenjamin-Constant: Marvels and Mirages of Orientalism. Ed. Nathalie Bondil. Exh. cat., Musée des Augustins, Toulouse. Montreal, 2014, pp. 42, 76–78, 373, no. 70, colorpl. 70 [French ed., 2014], notes its debt to Regnault's "Salomé" (The Met 16.95); identifies the same model in two other versions of the subject by him, "Judith" (about 1885, Haber collection, Tuxedo Park, N.Y.) and "Judith" (about 1886, Sotheby's, New York, October 23, 2007); on this basis, dates The Met's picture to about 1885–86); discusses the painting in terms of the fin-de-siècle vogue for the femme fatale; states that in the artist's omission of any hint of Holofernes' head or corpse and with his reliance on the scimitar as the only sign of Judith's act, Constant distanced himself from the usual conventions of the subject's iconography.
Nathalie Bondil inBenjamin-Constant: Marvels and Mirages of Orientalism. Ed. Nathalie Bondil. Exh. cat., Musée des Augustins, Toulouse. Montreal, 2014, p. 234 [French ed. 2014], wonders whether the model for it could be the same as for his "Eastern Beauty" (before or about 1880, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts); notes that red hair was then associated with Jewish women and enchantresses.
Nathalie Bondil and Axel Hémery inBenjamin-Constant: Marvels and Mirages of Orientalism. Ed. Nathalie Bondil. Exh. cat., Musée des Augustins, Toulouse. Montreal, 2014, p. 20 [French ed., 2014].
Dominique Lobstein inBenjamin-Constant: Marvels and Mirages of Orientalism. Ed. Nathalie Bondil. Exh. cat., Musée des Augustins, Toulouse. Montreal, 2014, p. 285 [French ed., 2014].
The Arabic inscription on the face of the frame derives from the Qur’an. It reads: لا إله إلا الله العزیز الحکیم (There is no God but God, the powerful, the wise.)
The inscription that appears in the corners is the motto of the Nasrid dynasty of Andalusia, in Spain, from 1232 until 1492. It reads: لا غالب الا الله (There is no Victor but God.)
Benjamin-Constant painted several versions of this subject, including one shown in the Salon of 1886 and another formerly with the dealer Goupil & Cie, Paris (1885–87; stock no. 17442; sold to Albert Fillion). There is, in the Department of European Paintings files, a photograph of what appears to be a version of the subject in a frame similar to the Museum's (Haber collection, Paramus, N.J., in 1964).