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Art Curatorial Exhibitions

Questions of Provenance: Evening on the Seashore—Tangiers by Jean Joseph Benjamin Constant

The Milwaukee Art Museum’s current feature exhibition, Milwaukee Collects, includes more than 100 objects from nearly 50 private collections in the Greater Milwaukee area. It offers an opportunity to see treasures that are typically not on public view. At the same time, it reminds us that the Milwaukee Art Museum’s collection is part of a long tradition of collecting in the community. This is the second in a series of blog posts that will explore the provenance of selected artworks in the collection and how they came to be here.

Jean Joseph Benjamin Constant (French, 1845–1902), Evening on the Seashore—Tangiers, ca. 1891. Oil on canvas. 58 1/2 × 39 3/4 × 1 1/4 in. (148.59 × 100.97 × 3.18 cm). Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of Marie K. Ingersoll and George L. Kuehn M1962.1158. Photo credit: John R. Glembin.
Jean Joseph Benjamin Constant (French, 1845–1902), Evening on the Seashore—Tangiers, ca. 1891. Oil on canvas. 58 1/2 × 39 3/4 × 1 1/4 in. (148.59 × 100.97 × 3.18 cm). Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of Marie K. Ingersoll and George L. Kuehn M1962.1158. Photo credit: John R. Glembin.

Evening on the Seashore—Tangiers is a highlight of the Milwaukee Art Museum’s Orientalism gallery. Orientalism is a style in which the Near East is interpreted by western artists. This interest in the “exotic” was extremely popular in nineteenth century Europe and provided subject matter not just for paintings, but also decorative arts and interior decoration.

Even houses in small-town Wisconsin might have a “Turkish Corner” featuring a table, platter, and rug just like those found in the foreground of our painting. Just check out this one at the Hixon House in La Crosse!

The French painter Jean Joseph Benjamin Constant (1845–1902) found a ready clientele for his Orientalist works in late nineteenth century American collectors. The relaxed atmosphere, monumental figures, and Mediterranean setting of Evening on the Seashore-Tangiers would have been of particular interest to wealthy patrons who had large new homes to decorate.

One of those homes would have been the Pillsbury mansion of Milwaukee. The red-brick Queen Anne home stood at what is now 1626 N. Prospect Avenue. The house was razed in the 1960’s and to be replaced by the highrise apartment building known as Prospect Towers.