Two Jewish Women of Constantine
(Théodore Chassériau)


Domestic orientalist themes remained a constant among the subjects the artist painted from the late 1840s, small scale works seldom with more than two or three figures, mostly women in simple interiors. Our painting, dated 1851, with the exception of the Strasbourg harem scene of 1854, is the largest of all his orientalist interiors and is certainly the artist’s most important work remaining in private hands. The relationship of the two women may be mother and daughter, the baby probably being the child of the latter. While the setting is humble, the confidently painted gold and silver jewelry, fine muslin shawls, silk dresses and embroidered slippers suggest that both ladies are the treasured wives of men of standing. The contrast with the plain interior serves to emphasize their exotic beauty; their eyes with heavily applied make-up, brilliant dashes of color emphasizing the shimmering silks, and sparkling silver and gold give them a dramatic intensity unexpected in such a setting. The artist has painted a scumbled background with speedily applied color, a thin brush has dashed a serpentine red line to illustrate the painted beams across the ceiling, some household objects, the kind of brasswork common to the houses of North African Jews and Arabs, are casually lying on the floor, a cloth hangs from the ceiling ready to fall and conceal the bed in the rear of the room.

Despite the domestic details, the sensuous eroticism of the subject cannot be entirely concealed. The artist’s work in the Jewish quarter of Constantine enabled him to portray the Sephardic women who, unlike the Moslem, were unveiled. Here we are given a more understated appreciation of the extraordinary appeal of North Africa for French artists, writers and tourists than in the sometimes vulgar works of less accomplished painters. Chassériau returned to the orientalist theme several times over the remaining five years of his life, indeed his last, unfinished painting was a Harem interior. Our painting is the most fully developed of all these compositions, however, and it is interesting to note that it was the first painting by the artist to be acquired by an American collector.

22 3/8 by 18 3/8 ins. 56.8 by 46.7 cm.
Oil on canvas

Provenance: Christofle, by 1893; Rex Ingram, Hollywood, California, by 1933; Anonymous (sale, Sotheby Parke Bernet, Los Angeles, March 12, 1979, Lot 57, illustrated); Tanenbaum Collection, Toronto.
Acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York


Literature: Valbert Chevillard, Un peintre romantique: Théodore Chassériau, Paris, 1893, No. 118; Leandre Vaillat, “Chassériau”, L’Art et les Artistes, 1907, illustrated; Leandre Vaillat, “L’oeuvre de Théodore Chassériau”, Les Arts, August 1913, p. 181, illustrated; Jean Laran, Théodore Chassériau, Paris, 1913, 1921, pp. 4, 11 illustrated; Henri Focillon, La peinture au XIX siècle: Le retour à l’antique, Le Romanticisme, Paris, 1927; Goodrich, Théodore Chassériau, 1928, p. 91, illustrated; Leonce Benedite, Théodore Chassériau: sa vie et son oeuvre, Paris, 1932, Pl. XXIV, illustrated; Georges Grappe, Théodore Chassériau, Paris, 1932, p. 50; Marc Sandoz, Théodore Chassériau 1819-1856: Catalogue raisonné des peintures et estampes, Paris, 1974, pp. 59, 348-9, No. 214, Pl. CLXXX, illustrated; Donald A. Rosenthal, Orientalism: The Near East in French Painting 1800-1880, New York, 1982, illustrated and discussed pp. 59-60, #59 in color (photo reversed); Lynne Thornton, Les Orientalistes Peintres Voyageurs 1828-1908, Paris, 1983, p. 74, illustrated; Louis-Antoine Prat, Musée du Louvre-Cabinet des Dessins: Inventaire General des Dessins Ecole Francaise, Dessins de Théodore Chassériau 1819-1856, Paris, 1988, Vol. I, p. 281, illustrated, and Pl. 607, for illustration of the preparatory drawing.


Exhibited: Paris, Galerie Durand-Ruel, Les Peintres Orientalistes Français-Quatrième Exposition: Retrospective Théodore Chassériau, 1897, No. 9; Paris, Exposition coloniale française, 1931; Paris, Musée de l’Orangerie, Chassériau 1819-1856, 1933, No. 59;

Where is It?
Acquired by the Metropolitan Museum, New York
Historical Period
Romanticism - 1810-1870
Genre or Daily Life
Price band
Sold or not available