The first important exhibit of its kind in Canada. Orientalism was a romantic movement at a time when Europe was industrializing and facing class struggle and women demanding their rights. The Orient seemed to be a paradise of seductive mirages and masked realities far removed from the rationalization and commercialism that dominated most of Europe. It was in fact a world of savagery, ruled by despots, justifying colonization.

The unusual retrospective presents an acclaimed painter of the Belle Époque, Benjamin-Constant (1845-1902). Discover his dazzling colour palette from his trips to Moorish Spain and the Morocco of the cherifas. His huge, spectacular canvases depict fantasies of a dreamlike Orient, viewed through the prism of folklore, ethnographic pretext and erotic imagination.

The power of the image speaks to us first. Hence the Moroccan artists that were invited to showcase this specific part of the Orient, like Lalla Essaydi. If the beauty and the composition of these works claim the artistic tradition that first seduced the imagination of the Orientalists, Essaydi diverts this to defend the rights of Arab women through self-representation.

Top 5 Must-Sees (Nathalie Bondil, Director & Chief Curator at the MMFA)

The Favourite of the Emir

The Favourite of the Emir – Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant (around 1879)

The favourite redhead with the translucent skin, a recurring model in Benjamin-Constant’s works. Her fiery hair translates, in the imagination of the 19th century, the idea of burning passion and the seductive temptress.


Head of a Moor

Head of a Moor – Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant (around 1875)

Who is this man of such fierce beauty? It’s a complete mystery. His commanding eyes convey the pride of his people in a single look.


Hassan and Namouna

Hassan and Namouna Henri Regnault  (1870)

Its enormous dimensions along with its particularly successful execution are remarkable for a water colour. This stained glass effect in the light is perfect for conveying the scintillating nature of Orientalist subjects. The bodies can barely be distinguished from the textiles.


Interior of a Harem in Morocco

Interior of a Harem in Morocco Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant (1878)

This monumental painting is the largest ever to be brought into the galleries of the MMFA, unrolled and in one piece. The evocative power of his paintings, whose size suggests a “cinematographic” relationship with spectators, explains in part this need to create the illusion of reality, to plunge us into a panoramic exoticism.

Harem No. 2

Harem No. 2 – Lalla Essaydi (2009)

Essaydi diverts this to defend the rights of Arab women through self-representation. Using photographs that imitate the Orientalist paintings, she subverts the spectator’s learned response by giving the deceptive impression of meeting expectations.

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