French artist who dedicated his life to Lebanon (DailyStar
Friday, 22 June, 2007) By James Farha
- Villa Audi exhibition highlights work produced by French modernist
painter Georges Cyr
after he moved to Lebanon in the 1930s.
Beirut may lack a proper
art museum where people can trace the history of Lebanese art, and
particularly the tradition of Lebanese painting from the 19th-century
through the present, but an exhibition on view at the Villa Audi
in Achrafieh through June 29 offers a specific glimpse of what such
an institution could be.
Businessman Raymond Audi,
one of Lebanon's most active arts patrons, has gathered together
the privately held works of French modernist painter Georges Cyr
for a two-month exhibition entitled "Georges Cyr dans les collections
The exhibition includes
examples of Cyr's work from many stages in his artistic life, but
it focuses on the art he produced after he moved to Beirut from
Normandy in 1934.
two important traditions in the history of art in Lebanon,"
says Sarah Rogers, an art historian and PhD candidate in the history,
theory and criticism of art and architecture program at the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology. Rogers is particularly knowledgeable on
Lebanese art history and has taught in the department of visual
art at Notre Dame University in Zouk Mosbeh.
"First is the cultural
crossroads that have long given form to art in Lebanon; the French
Mandate opened the country more to all things French, and because
of the legacy of the laissez-faire economy put into place by the
mandate, Beirut's role as a locus for the trafficking of goods and
services, and artists, only further developed post-1943," adds
"Secondly, his atelier
served as an artistic meeting place and studio for training others
interested in art which is part of a longer history of art in Beirut.
For instance, before the Lebanese Academy of Fine Art [ALBA] established
its art department in 1943, followed by the American University
of Beirut's 10 years later in 1953, artists in Lebanon learned their
craft in the studios of the previous generation such as [Charles]
Corm and [Habib] Srour."
The Cyr collection
on view now is made up of 96 privately owned paintings organized
in six rooms. The exhibition includes works in pencil, ink, watercolor,
oil and gouache. The paintings chart his career through the first
half of the 20th century and encompass a broad range of modernist
styles. The gallery begins with realist oil paintings such as a
large, dark picture of the church at Molineaux, near to where he
grew up in Normandy, painted in 1932, and pencil sketches including
an undated self-portrait, from Raymond Audi's own collection. (Other
collectors who have lent works to the show include Madeleine Pierre
Helou, wife of the late MP Pierre Helou and a member of the Lebanese
Association for the Development of Private Funding for Culture;
Saleh Barakat, founder of the Agial Art Gallery in Hamra, New York-based
Lebanese painter Nabil Nahas and Naila Kettaneh-Kunigk of Galerie
Tanit in Munich).
Cyr's works are arranged
in roughly chronologically order, and it is striking that even shortly
before his death in 1964, he was still producing a great range of
styles - from light, playful watercolors of people at a picnic to
heavy cubist oils and landscapes.
Coming from the modernist
painting schools of northern France, where he took up painting as
a career on the advice of the artist Armand Guillaumin, around 1910,
Cyr slipped into the already-thriving modern movement of 1930s Beirut.
He settled quickly into a close-knit group of French and Lebanese
artists then active in the city.
"By the time Cyr
arrived in the mid-1930s, Beirut already had an on-spec, secular
market for easel painting," explains Rogers. "By 1928,
journals like La Revue du Liban highlighted the importance of art
by focusing on Lebanese painters and sculptors. Moreover, Lebanese
artists were far from isolated from art movements abroad. Indeed,
Corm and Srour trained abroad as did the next generation."
While Cyr brought with
him the influence of modernist movements in Paris, as did many of
his Lebanese contemporaries who trained in Europe, the influence
of his network of artist friends in Beirut also left their mark
on his work.
The most overt reference
to another artist is the painting entitled "Chagrin d'amour,"
taking its name from the title of Lebanese poet and playwright Georges
Schehade's first play. Schehade was Cyr's closest friend in Beirut
and theater scholar Leonard Lenko's description of the playwright's
literary landscape as "a world in which the brotherhood of
men with animals and objects is more than once suggested,"
could well be applied to Cyr's art.
The blending of these
three elements is a theme picked up on by Cyr in several paintings,
aside from "Chagrin d'amour," such as an untitled watercolor
from the collection of George Asseily in which a fountain painted
in black in the foreground also has the appearance of a simple face
with a broad moustache.
The earliest dated work
in the collection is an untitled watercolor from 1922, two years
before Cyr exhibited for the first time at the annual Salons des
Independents in Paris.
The painting depicts
a prominent tree in watercolor, a motif that traces its way through
many of the works that he sold for a living to friends and local
collectors and becomes a bold theme of the collection overall, often
shading and framing the human subjects of his work and even appearing
in some of his darker cubist painting.
and painters had been interested in the cedar tree since the late
19th century," says Rogers. "Many artists, particularly
in France, were interested during the post-impressionist period
in series such as Monet's grain stacks, cathedral and water lilies.
To paint something again and again in nature allowed these artists
to experiment with light and its effects on form."
"Georges Cyr dans
les collections libanaises" is on exhibit at the Villa Audi
on St. Nicholas Street in Achrafieh through June 29. For more information,
please call +961 1 331 600.
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