Marvels and Mirages of Orientalism

From Spain to Morocco, Benjamin-Constant in His Time

The show unveils the forgotten figure of a master of Orientalism, Benjamin-Constant… Following in the footsteps of artists like Delacroix, whom he admired, this flamboyant painter’s Orientalism is similar to that of Henri Regnault, Mariano Fortuny, Georges Clairin and Jean-Paul Laurens, who also figure largely in the exhibition. Appropriating the stereotypes of a colonial Near East, Benjamin-Constant alternated indolent odalisques and fierce Moors in his large-scale paintings.

“IT IS TOO BEAUTIFUL FOR ME ONLY. THERE ARE PICTURES EVERYWHERE. IT IS NOT A CITY; IT IS A MUSEUM”
– Benjamin-Constant about Tangier

The exhibition reveals six iconic aspects of Orientalism, offering a dual reading of its fictional subjects, juxtaposing staged pictorial settings with documented realities. Drawings and photographs round out this exploration of Moorish Spain and sharifian Morocco, between seductive mirages and the hidden realities of a colonial republic.

“As Benjamin-Constant, like many other Orientalists, showed a predilection for harem scenes and odalisques, I invited three Moroccan women artists – Yasmina Bouziane, Lalla Essaydi and Majida Khattari – to share their views on these stereotypes. More than ever, the history of images can teach us how to decode certain prejudices”, says Nathalie Bondil, the MMFA’s director and chief curator.

The project required intensive research and a large-scale restoration campaign. The Museum transported from Lille the largest unrolled painting in its history, The Harem (3.25 x 5.37 m), a daunting challenge.

In Montreal the expanded version of the exhibition comprises almost 250 works: iconic paintings by Orientalist artists, not only Benjamin-Constant but also Delacroix, Gérôme, Debat-Ponsan, Laurens, Rixens, Rochegrosse, Vernet-Lecomte and Dehodencq; contemporary Moroccan women artists revisiting the stereotypes of the past; and Oriental objects to contextualize the artist’s studio.

For ticket prices and exhibit hours: www.mbam.qc.ca or 514-285-2000

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