The Art movement in Lebanon, from 1930 to 1975 by Frieda Howling
Lebanon, the ancient land of Phoenicia is a small country situated
along the Mediterranean Sea . Its population of approximately one
and a half million is a people with varied religious backgrounds,
mainly Moslems, Druze, and Christians. Due to this mixture a multitude
of traditions exist which, in the past, have prohibited the development
of some cultural facets. The country boasts of a rich background
in its history and major contributions to civilization, such as
the alphabet and the Justinian Laws. Recognition and acceptance
of the art of painting, however, developed late in Lebanon 's history.
Movement of art could not infiltrate into the country from European countries or America because no teaching of art, either representational or as a means of self- expression, existed before the last quarter of the 19 th century. Craftsmen flourished during the various historical periods of Lebanon . They left the mark of their art, particularly in architecture in the form of decorative motives both on the exterior and the interior of buildings, as well as furniture, woven cloth, and the metal crafts.
Art was accepted only in the context of a religious nature, created mostly for the Christian churches Joseph Abou Rizk, who was one of the first writers to compile a history of Lebanese artists makes the following statement in his book, Regards Sur La Peinture Au Liban: “In its general history El Douaihy mentions the name in Elias El Chadiak El Hasrouny, the first known Lebanese painter to whom the Father Antoun El Gemayel had entrusted the task to decorate the church "Mar Abda" in Bikfaya in 1587.” He also said: "It goes without saying that the first pioneers of this movement have been self-taught persons. But the daring of their initiative and the naïve spontaneity of which they gave proof are self-sufficient to call our attention to them".
The Lebanon of today is a relatively young country. It was part of Syria until the 19 th century. It was under the French mandate from 1918 until 1942, when it became an independent Republic. Thus I am covering a relatively short period of time when considering the development of contemporary art and Lebanese artists. After several years of research, mainly through contacts, I have reasonable assurance that the first painter to have achieved public recognition as a contemporary Lebanese painter was Daoud Corm. If others have existed, they remained in oblivion.
The young Daoud Corm's creative talent was discovered by an interested priest who was able to persuade the patriarch to help the young man to secretly slip out of the country in order to go to Italy . There he studied art at the Royal Academy of Saint Luke in Rome for three years. In the meantime the patriarch reconciled the father of the young man to the idea that the profession of painting is not a disrespectful or dishonorable one. After his return to Lebanon in 1874 this artists specialized in portrait painting, and achieved recognition for his religious painting. In fact, it is said that in Lebanon every Christian church of that era contains paintings executed by Daoud Corm. Landscapes had very little or no appeal at that time.
Since Daoud Corm received his academic training under Pompiani in Rome it seems only natural that Corm's works reflect influences of the Italian masters. Through him the purely classical and representational art movement can therefore be considered the forerunner of the first art movement in contemporary painting in Lebanon . Corm’s most ardent student and follower, Habib Srour, also went to Italy for further academic training in art and became the second known contemporary Lebanese painter.
Painting continued in the traditional style until about 1945. Among the best known painters of that period are Khalil Saleeby, Khalil Gibran, Mustafa Farrouk, Saliba Douaihy, Omar Onsi, and Rachid Wehbé. All of these painters went abroad for academic training in art. Khalil Saleeby studied in America , France and Germany in the early 1920s. Khalil Gibran studied in Paris at Rodin's studio. He was later influenced by the work of symbolist English artist William Blake. Mustafa Farrouk went to Italy and Paris to further his artistic training. Saliba Douaihy left Lebanon at the age of twenty-one to study in Paris . Upon his return to Lebanon in 1936, he joined the traditional school of painting of his contemporaries. Omar Onsi received his first art training at the American University of Beirut between 1918 to 1920. He later studied for three years in Paris (1927 to 1930). Rachid Wehbé was indoctrinated to the traditional, realistic style of painting by his teacher Habib Srour.
The year 1943 marks the beginning of significant public art interest with the establishment of the Academie des Beaux Arts, under the leadership of Alexis Boutros. The school of painting was founded in November of that year. Cesar Gemayel, a protégé of Khalil Saleeby, was appointed director and teacher of the School of Painting . Gemayel, who had studied in Paris , was greatly influenced by Renoir and the impressionists in general. Gemayel was a dynamic leader. A man of great personal public appeal, he exerted considerable influence. Because of this, he was able to introduce the first nude model in the drawing classes at the Academie Libanaise des Beaux Arts. On the surface he seemed to have removed public prejudice of the idea of drawing the human figure in the nude. However, it was only a small segment of society that began to show interest and to understand art. The struggle against public opinion about artists continued to restrain the growing of an art movement. A painter was believed to be a man condemned to die of hunger. The profession of painting, therefore, was not taken seriously by most of the Lebanese. The small segment of the people who might have appreciated paintings, and who could afford to buy works of art, did not invest much in Lebanese paintings because it was fashionable to possess European reproductions with all the glory of elaborately gilded frames. Under the sponsorship of the Lebanese Ministry of Education, the Lebanese artists received some encouragement and were given the opportunity to exhibit at the UNESCO Hall semiannually, in the spring and in the fall.
In 1957 about twenty painters founded the Lebanese Artists Association. Among them were the already established traditional painters Omar Onsi, George Corm, and Rachid Wehbé, as well as a new enthusiastic group of young artists with a leaning towards the abstract movement. Some of these were Chafic Abboud, Jean Khalifé, Aref Rayess, Adel Saghir, Saloua Raouda Choucair, Elie Kanaan, Said Akl, Michel El Mir, Nicolas Nammar, Rafic Charaf, Amin Sfeir, and the sculptors Michel and Alfred Basbous. Some of these young painters also received encouragement from the French painter Georges Cyr who lived, painted, and exhibited in Beirut . In his teaching he was then influential particularly among those painters who followed the French school of expression. Besides Cyr there was no indigenous model for them to follow at home. So, they naturally turned to the European abstract expressionists like Leger, Chagall, and Ernst.
About this time, 1959, a primitive painter was discovered in Beirut , Khalil Zgaib, a self-styled painter whose gay country scenes in the flat, colorful motif made him the lone primitive painter of Lebanon until Sophie Yeremian appeared. Although classed as a primitive painter, she depicts life in Lebanon in a child-like manner rather than in the pure primitive style.
From 1968 to 1975 membership of the Lebanese Artists Association grew to about sixty members according to reports from its officers. Among the newer members were Yvette Sargologo, Nadia Saikali, Mounir Najm, Assem Stetie, Stelio Scamanga, Helen Khal, and Mohamad Sakr. In November 1961 another stimulus was added to the growing interest in art in Lebanon . The Nicolas Sursock Museum was opened with the function of offering a place for the Lebanese artists to exhibit their works, as well as broadening the knowledge of art through various exhibits of local and international scope. For its inauguration the fall of 1961, an Exhibit of the Lebanese Artists Association was arranged with an array of visitors from the international set attending the opening night. In 1962, Gallery One opened its doors to the public. It was the first art gallery in Beirut with a permanent collection of work of contemporary Lebanese artists on display. This gallery was established by Yusuf Al Khal and his wife, Helen, both creatively active, Helen as an artist, Yusuf as a well-known poet. In the spring of 1964, a new group of importance formed the l'Association Culturelle Armenienne Hamaskayine. This group included Paul Guiragossian, George Guv, Zaven Haditzian, John Papasian, Hriar, and Assadour Bezdikian. Although all of them have exhibited with the Lebanese painters, the purpose of forming their own association was mainly to encourage young Armenian-Lebanese talent. NEXT>>
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