The sketcher Constantin Guys, whose real name was Ernest Adolphe Hyacinthe Constantin, was born in Vlissingen (the Netherlands) on December 3, 1805. At 18, he ran away from home and became a soldier. He took part in the War of Independence in Greece in the retinue of the English poet Lord Byron (1788 – 1824). After he returned home in 1827, Guys joined a French dragoon regiment and traveled through Europe and Asia.
He first began his actual career at the age of 42, without receiving the least amount of instruction in drawing or a graphic process to work on. In the 1840’s and 1850’s, Guys went from one battlefield to another as a war illustrator for the Illustrated London News. In addition, longer stays in London and Paris ensued. Here, Constantin Guys produced illustrated reports on folk festivals and court festivities.
In the beginning of the 1860’s, the artist settled in Paris. From now on, this city was the main site of his creative work. Constantin Guys never drew directly from nature, but rather always worked from memory. His insatiable observing eye drank in Parisian life and processed it in his works. In 1863, Figaro published Charles-Pierre Baudelaire’s (1821 – 67) evaluation of Guys under the title "Le Peinture de la vie moderne". Guys asked Baudelaire not to use the artist’s name in his article. He wanted to prevent his name becoming known in broader circles. He also never signed a single one of his paintings, and he never exhibited his works publicly. For this reason, the artist lived isolated and in material poverty as a brilliant misfit.
Only a small circle of friends acknowledged his importance during his lifetime, among them Paul Gavarni (1804 – 66), Honoré Daumier (1808 – 79), Nadar (1820 – 1910) and the man who discovered him, Baudelaire. Constantin Guys was affiliated with Gavarni through many an artistic relationship, but also his productivity. He left behind an enormous body of drawings.
Guys was run over by a taxi during the Carneval in 1885. Both of his legs were crushed in the accident. Thereafter, the artist spent his last seven years in the Hospice Dubois.
Constantin Guys died in Paris in 1892.