Constantine Alexander Ionides was the son of shipping owner and collector, Alexander Constantine Ionides (1810-1890) and Euterpe Sgouta (1816-1892). He was the eldest of the third generation of the Greek merchant family to live in England. They were generous patrons and supporters of artists. His sister Aglaia Coronio (1834-1906) and his brothers, Luke (1837-1924) and Alexander (1840-1898), were also collectors. On 26 October 1860 he married Agathonike Fenerli (1844-1920), with whom he had eight children.
Constantine Ionides was a collector and businessman, who entered the family firm in Manchester in 1850. He was sent to Bucharest in 1855 where he spent five years in the wheat trade and met his future wife. On his return to London he he settled at 8 Holland Villas in 1864, and joined a firm of stockbrokers, Clapham Brothers. He left to start his own firm in 1866, Ionides & Barker at 37 Threadneedle Street. He was also director of the Tunisian Railway Co. Ionides & Co. at 2 Copthall Buildings, London, was set up in 1877 and the next year, he started buying art on a large scale.
Ionides amassed almost the largest collection of Barbizon paintings in London, apart from the Wallace Collection, and bought many other contemporary French and Belgian artists, particularly from the Realist schol. Most of Ionides purchases were made directly from or through artists or privately through dealers, making it difficult to chart the growth of his collection. He met JW in the 1850s through his brothers Luke and Alexander, and he became a regular visitor to the Ionides family home at Tulse Hill, south London.
JW introduced him to the other members of the Société des Trois, Legros and Fantin-Latour, and with his father, Ionides soon became a major patron of both. Legros in particular became instrumental in forming his taste and a close friend. Watts, Poynter, Armstrong, Rossetti and Burne-Jones were all part of the Ionides' social circle. During JW's quarrel with Legros in 1867, JW described Ionides as 'the fat brother Constantin who is very obstinate as you know and has gone over to the other side' (see #11983). Out of their circle, Ionides alone had remained friendly with Legros, and their relationship was to be one of mutual trust and respect for almost twenty years.
Ionides was one of the first collectors in England to support the etching revival and the sculptor Auguste Rodin. With old master paintings he had a preference for those of the Venetian school. In later years he also collected jade, lacquer, cloisonné, Chinese porcelain, silver, bronzes and gemstones. Ionides retired in 1882 after amassing a substantial fortune and he left his collection to the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1901.
Metaxas, K. H., Ionides Family Tree, The Greek Gazette, 1995; Macleod, Dianne Sachko, Art and the Victorian Middle Class: Money and the Making of Cultural Identity, Cambridge, 1996, pp. 433-5; Wilcox, T., From primitives to pre-raphaelites: the art treasures of Constantine Ionides, Hove's greatest collector, Brighton 1992; Watson, Andrew, 'Constantine Ionides and his Collection of 19th-Century French Art', Journal of the Scottish Society for Art History, 3, 1993, pp. 25-31.