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'Constantine Alexandre Ionides', oil painting by George Frederick Watts, England, 1880. Museum no. CAI.1141

'Constantine Alexandre Ionides', oil painting by George Frederick Watts, England, 1880. Museum no. CAI.1141

Constantine Alexander Ionides (1833–1900) started work in his father’s fabric export business, but in 1864 he entered the London Stock Exchange and by 1866 had started working with a partner as stock and share brokers in the City. In 1882 Constantine retired from active business having realise a considerable fortune. In 1884 he bought a house in Hove, Brighton and by the early 1890s was living there permanently with his art collection.

Ionides' collection 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). He 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 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 Constantine's widow Agathonike in 1920. The works are listed in the V&A Catalogue of the Constantine Alexander Ionides Collection. The collection provides a unique insight into progressive taste in Victorian Britain. Constantine assembled a fine art collection, which included over 80 paintings, including Renaissance portraits by Botticelli and Tintoretto, and Pre-Raphaelite works by Burne-Jones and Rossetti. The collection is on display in Room 81 at the V&A South Kensington. Here the works are densely hung, as in Ionides' home, together with sculpture and furniture which belonged to him or his family, and oriental ceramics similar to pieces he owned.

Read more about the Constantine Ionides Bequest

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