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Constantine Ionides Bequest Study Guide

Constantine Alexander Ionides, oil painting by George Frederick Watts, UK, 1880. Museum no. CAI.1141

Constantine Alexander Ionides (1833–1900), oil painting by George Frederick Watts OM RA (1817–1904), UK, 1880. Museum no. CAI.1141 (oil painting)

Constantine Alexander Ionides and his bequest to the V&A

The Ionides family

In 1815 Constantine Ipliktzis came to England with a view to exporting Manchester cloth to Greece and Turkey. He came with not much more than a motto given to him by his father in his will: never spend more than a third of your income; give away a third in charity and save a third.

His son Alexander settled in Manchester in 1827 changing his name to Ionides (Ion was the mythical ancestor of the Ionians, therefore Ionides means 'the Greek') and founded the firm of Ionides and Co. His business prospered and he moved first to Tulse Hill, South London and then in 1864 to 1 Holland Park. Alexander became an art patron and a friend of several noted artists, such as Whistler and Rossetti. His first private commission was to G.F. Watts to paint from the original the portrait of Alexander Ionides’s father, Constantine by Samuel Lane. He went on to paint five generations of the Ionides family.

Alexander Constantine Ionides (1810–90) married Euterpe Sgouta (1816–92) and had five children: Constantine Alexander Ionides (1833–1900), Aglaia Ionides (1834–1906), Luke Alexander Ionides (1837–1924), Alexander Alexander Ionides (1840–98) and Chariclea Anethea Euterpe Ionides (1844–1923). The family love of collecting works of art originated with Alexander, and was subsequently taken up by his youngest son, 'Alecco', and further developed by Constantine. However, the whole family was connected with artistic circles of the day: Aglaia was the confidante of Morris and friend of D.G. Rossetti and acted as a mediator between Rossetti and her brother Constantine for the sale of pictures. Luke was a great friend of Whistler and Burne-Jones and Chariclea was a delightful vocal interpreter of Schumann and became Edward Dannreuther’s wife.

Constantine Alexander Ionides
Constantine Alexander Ionides was the eldest son of Alexander Constantine Ionides. He was born on 14 May 1833 and died at Brighton on 29 June 1900 and is buried at the Hove cemetery. At the age of 17 he entered his father’s business in Manchester, and five years later represented his father’s firm in the grain trade in Romania. At 27 he married Agathonike Fenerli in Constantinople and they went on to have eight children together. He moved to 8 Holland Villas Road on Lord Holland’s Estate in Northern Kensington not far from 1 Holland Park where his parents moved in the same year. In 1864 Constantine entered the London Stock Exchange and by 1866 had started up his own business with a partner called Barker as stock and share brokers in the City, continuing successfully as Ionides & Ionides and Ionides Constantine. In 1882 Constantine retired from active business having amassed a considerable fortune. In 1884 he bought a house in Hove, East Sussex, and by the early 1890s was living there permanently with his art collection. Not much is known of Constantine as a person; his son tells us that he was an autocrat in the home, known by his children as 'O Zeus'.

Constantine Ionides’ art collection
The collection formed by Constantine Ionides includes works of a wide variety of schools, periods and artists, such as Old Masters, 17th-century works, contemporary British works and French 19th-century works. Constantine formed friendships with artists of the day, in particular with Alphonse Legros (1837–1911). Constantine proved a stable and generous buyer of Legros' work, and in turn Legros became his advisor in the matters of art. Under the influence of Legros, Constantine developed a keen interest in French 19th-century paintings, purchasing works by Delacroix, Degas, Millet and Rousseau.

Constantine’s plans for his collection ran more towards the idea of benefitting the general public than did those of his father or brother. He decided to donate his collection to the Victoria & Albert Museum instead of privately distributing it or disposing of it at auction. His will states:

'All my pictures both in oil and water colors and crayon or colored chalks (but subject as to my family portraits to the interest herein before given to my said Wife) and all my etchings drawings and engravings to the South Kensington Museum for the benefit of the nation to be kept there as one separate collection to be called "The Constantine Alexander Ionides Collection" and not distributed over the Museum or lent for exhibition. And I desire that the said Etchings Drawings and Engravings shall be framed and glazed by and at the expense of the authorities of the Museum so that Students there can easily see them.'

The collection bequeathed to the Museum in 1901 comprises 1138 pictures, drawing, and prints, to which a further 20 items were added on the death of his widow in 1920. The works are listed in the V&A Catalogue of the Constantine Alexander Ionides Collection.

Information in the V&A Archive

MA/1/I246: Nominal file - Ionides, Constantine A. (Ionides Collection)

MA/31/6: Register of loans in

MA/49/2/73 & 77: Press cuttings


  • Atkins, J, The Ionides family, Antique Collector, June 1987, pp. 86-94 
  • Distel, A, Les collectionneurs des impressionistes : amateurs et marchands, Paris, 1989, p. 232 
  • Druick, D and M, Hoog, Fantin-Latour, National Gallery of Canada and National Museums of Canada Exhibition Catalogue, Ottawa, 1983, p.116 
  • Harvey, C and Press, J, The Ionides family and 1 Holland Park, Journal of the Decorative Arts Society, 18, 1994, (pp. 2-14) 
  • Haskell, F, Rediscoveries in art, Oxford 1976, (p. 134) 
  • Holmes, C.J, 'The Constantine Ionides bequest', Burlington Magazine, vol 5, 1904, (p. 455)
  • Ionides, A.C, ION: a grandfather’s tale, Dublin, 1927
  • Ionides, J, 'The Greek connection - The Ionides family and their connections with Pre-Raphaelite and Victorian art circles', In : Casters, S, and Faxon, A, eds, Pre-Raphaelite art in its European context, London 1996, (pp. 160-173) 
  • Ionies, Luke, Memories, Paris 1925, facsimile reprint published with an afterword by J, Ionides, Ludlow, 1996

    Kauffmann, C. M. ‘Ionides, Constantine Alexander (1833–1900).’ In Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004. NAL pressmark: 920.041 DIC

  • Leoussi, A, The Ionides circle and art, Unpublished M Phil Thesis, 1982, Courtauld Institute of Art, available in NAL
  • List of the bequests and donations to the South Kensington Museum, now called The Victoria and Albert Museum: completed, to 31st December 1900. London: Printed by HMSO, 1901. NAL pressmark: VA.1901.0001
  • Long, Basil S., Catalogue of the Constantine Alexander Ionides collection: vol. 1, Paintings in oil, tempera and water-colour, together with certain of the drawings. London: Printed under the authority of the Board of Education, 1925. NAL pressmark: 79.B
  • Macleod, D Sachko, 'Mid-Victorian patronage of the arts: F.G. Stephens's The Private collections of England', Burlington Magazine, vol 128, 1986
  • Memorial catalogue of the French and Dutch loan collection, Edinburgh International Exhibition, 1886,

    Edinburgh: Douglas, 1888

  • Metaxas, K.H, 'The Ionides: a Greek family in Britain: family tree', The Greek Gazette, December 1995 
  • Monkhouse, Cosmo, Magazine of Art, 1884, (pp. 36-44, 120-127, 208-214) 
  • Pantazzi, Michael, 'Corot and his Collectors', In Corot, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1996, p. 403, Exhibition catalogue 
  • Pickvance, R, 'Degas dancers, 1872-1876', Burlington Magazine, vol 105, 1963, p. 266 
  • Victoria & Albert Museum, The Catalogue of the Constantine Alexander Ionides Collection, London, 1904 
  • Victoria & Albert Museum/Long, Basil S, Catalogue of the Constantine Alexander Ionides collection, Vol, 1, Paintings in oil, tempera and water-colour, together with certain of the drawings, London, 1925 Victoria & Albert Museum/Kauffmann, C.M, Catalogue of foreign paintings, (2 vols), 1973 
  • Victoria & Albert Museum. The Ionides collection. Information pamphlet 
  • Watson, Andrew, 'Constantine Ionides and his collection of 19th-century French art', Journal of the Scottish Society for Art History, Vol 3, 1998 
  • Whiteley, L, 'Accounting for tastes',Oxford Art Journal, No.2, 1979, p. 25 
  • Wilcox, T, The Art Treasures of Constantine Ionides, Hove’s Greatest Collector, Brighton 1992, Hove Museum and Gallery Catalogue 

  • Letters to Constantine Ionides in the National Art Library

    From: E Burne Jones
    Date: undated
    Description: Telling Ionides that the picture "The Mill" will be ready after drying and finishings, asking for £500 in advance and saying he will send the ‘green’ picture too. He submits an account.
    Pressmark: 86.WW.1
    Ref no: MSL/1979/2603

    From: Walter Crane
    Date: 5 December 1881
    Description: Responding to the invitation to become a member of a club
    Pressmark: 86.WW.1
    Ref no: MSL/1979/2606

    From: Jules Dalou
    Date: 11 March 1873, 3 June 1881
    Description: 9 letters in French referring to various works by Dalou including a terracotta bust of Miss Helen Ionides as a child (now in V&A).
    Pressmark: 86.NN Box II
    Ref no: MSL/1956/3585

    From: Edwin Edwards
    Date: 24 August 1871
    Description: Confirms receipt of a cheque for £15:15/- for Fantin’s nature work (still life). Expresses that Fantin will be pleased that his work is still sought after by his earliest patrons in this country. Best wishes to family.
    Pressmark: 86.WW.1
    Ref no: MSL/1979/2837

    From: D G Rossetti
    Date: 7 May 1880
    Description: Letter discusses money for a painting which is almost finished, size 61 x 35, would like an advance of £200 with £135 payable on delivery (refers to Day Dreams) includes illustration
    Pressmark: 86.HH Box III
    Ref no: MSL/1979/2767

    From: D G Rossetti
    Date: 31 October 1879, 18 March 1880, 3 undated
    Description: 5 letters concerning payment for his painting "The Day Dream" and offering for sale a portrait by Botticelli of ‘Smeralda Bandinelli’.
    Pressmark: 86.WW.1
    Ref no: MSL/1979/2601/1-5

    From: William Strang
    Date: 15 November 1886
    Description: Asking Ionides if he would like to see a set of 13 etchings made to illustrate ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’.
    Pressmark: 86.WW.1
    Ref no: MSL/1979/2609

    From: J M Swan
    Date: 8 July 1898
    Description: Thanks for receipt of a cheque for £15 and discusses a pedestal for a bronze sculpture. Mentions objects he bought in a sale. Rough drawing of a pedestal and bust. Invites Ionides to come and see him if in town.
    Pressmark: 86.WW.1
    Ref no: MSL/1979/2608

    From: G F Watts
    Date: 22 October 1893
    Description: Discusses payment for a painting and thanks for a photograph of the first painting Watts did for the family (refers to Samuel Lane’s painting of Ionides Grandfather).
    Pressmark: 86.WW.1
    Ref no: MSL/1979/2606

    From: G F Watts
    Date: 22 February 1889
    Description: Thanking Ionides for sending him some photographs.
    Pressmark: 86.WW.1
    Ref no: MSL/1980/45/1

    From: Henry Willet
    Date: 15 November 1896
    Description: Sending Constantine copies of some work (verses) as loans, and pamphlets from a friend Prof Chardin (or Church?) for Constantine’s acceptance, and a duplicate set for his son and wife.
    Pressmark: 86.WW.1
    Ref no: MSL/1979/2838

    Further related letters:

    From: Morris and Co.
    To: Alecco
    Description: Bills and letters addressed to a A A Ionides
    Pressmark: 86.KK Box III

To locate material in the National Art Library, please search the Library Catalogue

A gift in your will

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