Georges David Corm

Georges David Corm - English version

Georges David Corm - English version


Georges David Corm: 1896-1971

1896 - Born in Beirut, the second child of David Semaan Corm and Virginie Naaman, after Charles, brother of Jean (John) and Marie.

1919-1921 - Studied painting at the Ecole Nationale supérieure des beaux-arts in Paris.

1921 - Gold medalist at the Beirut Exhibition Fair.

1922 - Winner of the contest for the concept of the Lebanese Medal of Merit. 
-Member of the jury for the selection of a project for a monument to those soldiers who had fallen in the Levant.

1922-1928 - Promoter and then a member of the executive committee for the setting up of a Beirut Museum of Antiquities and Fine Arts.
-Secretary of the International Archaeological Congress held in Beirut in 1926.
-Promoter and member of the jury of the Lebanese National Conservatory of Music.

1928 - Emigrated to Egypt, where he married Marie Bekhyt and in 1934 with some fellow artists and writers set up the Atelier, a group for the encouragement and diffusion of the arts and letters.

1936 - Officer of the Académie de France. 
Two of his paintings were bought by the Museum of Anvers in Belgium.

1937 - Medal of Honour of the Lebanese Merit.

1955 - Elected Honorary Member of the Lebanese Merit.

1955 - Elected member of the Royal Society of Arts of London.

1956 - Returned to Lebanon.

1958 - Officer of the Order of the Cedar.

1971 - Died in Beirut on December 13th.

An itinerary…

Everything predisposed Georges Daoud Corm to an artistic career. However, his life was a difficult but patient itinerary to keep intact his faith in art and therefore in mankind.

Born in 1896 into a scholarly family in Kesrouan, Georges Corm was the grandson of Semaan Corm, who distinguished himself as the tutor of the son of Emir Bashir, and the son of Daoud Corm, who was one of the pioneers of painting in Lebanon, famous for his religious works as well as for his fine portraits of Lebanese, Egyptian and Roman notables.

Daoud Corm was well rooted in Lebanon of the 19th century, which had seen the decline of the old aristocracy; he died, say his biographers, covered with honors. Georges Corm, therefore, found himself in duty bound to assume the difficult role of an artist, son of another artist of established reputation, in a society that was undergoing rapid change.

He had first of all to make a choice among the different talents with which nature and his family background had endowed him. The many notebooks he left behind him full of his youthful poems (one of which, Chez Les humbles, was published in 1915) bear witness to this. His passion for music and the evenings of chamber music at which he acted as a pianist in Beirut at the beginning of the 20th century, and his efforts for the setting up of the Conservatory of Music, are further evidence of his complex artistic talents... Likewise, his activities in various artistic domains between 1922 and 1930 are yet another indication of his attachment to art in all its different forms, as well as of his indefatigable desire to develop the arts in his homeland.

Why painting should finally have got the upper hand perhaps only the artist himself could have told us. There was no doubt the shadow of his father in a society that was still strongly patriarchal, but also the feeling derived from the experience of his father that painting provided the minimum material conditions of existence better than either music or poetry. In point of fact, throughout his life, Georges Corm suffered the bitter experience of the artist’s position in a society that was rapidly changing and had little time for art, and still less for the social status and material condition of its artists.

One part of Georges Corm’s artistic impulse suffered as a consequence when, living by his painting alone, he had to sacrifice much of his spontaneous but well-structured pictorial leanings to the production of flattering portraits of personalities of the high society, portraits obviously made to please their models, who were unfortunately too often inclined to haggle over the painter’s fees.

So one can hardly be surprised that from 1950 onwards, when the material condition of the artist underwent a steady decline, there no more appear any of those sumptuous still-lifes of the nineteen-thirties or the fine Lebanese landscapes typical of the nineteen-twenties followed by the Egyptian landscapes between 1920 and 1940.

But as if to provide some compensation, some of the occasional landscapes produced by George Corm from 1950 onwards have a certain element of fantasy and of hidden symbolism, one that is perceptible in the form of the rocks (such as those overhanging the view of the Bay of Jounieh), or in stalactites (in the canvases of the interior of Grotto of Jeita), or again in the Man in the Planet and the Swan.

Similarly, a number of female nudes of this period, full of eroticism so manifestly opposed to the mystical romanticism of the artist, reveal themselves as a vengeful counterpoint to all those delicate, beautified faces of the ladies of the genteel society.

It must be admitted that Georges Corm never quite succeeded in being a man of the twentieth century or in adapting himself to the social interplay of the new Lebanese or Egyptian élite. Of course, when on his marriage with Marie Bekhit, daughter of Youssef Bekhit, rich cotton-broker on the Alexandria Exchange, he installed himself in this Levantine city in the year 1928, there can be little doubt that the brilliant cosmopolitan life there was a strong attraction for him. It was here that he produced some remarkable portraits, some splendid still-lifes, and some seascapes full of subtle touches. However, art alone is not enough for a growing family to live on and, with the depression in Egypt during the years 1936 to 1939, the commercial ventures he had launched became an additional cause of worry for himself and for his wife.

In 1948 Georges Corm gave up once and for all his business activity and from then on lived on the meager income derived for his portraits and from some lessons of painting. It was then that he took up residence in Cairo, but the unrelenting nostalgia for his native soil, further aggravated by the social and cultural changes that Egypt underwent at this time, led him to finally settle in Beirut in the year 1957. There, however, he soon withdrew from public and social life. He even stopped showing his work after 1967, the year when the wave of abstract painting invaded the chic Lebanese society, until the art critic of a leading Beirut daily emphatically and confidently asserted that dust had smothered his brush.

At the end of the nineteen-fifties, faithful to his early vocation as a promoter of the arts in Lebanon, Georges Corm had all the same presented the Lebanese government with a plan for the setting up of an Institute of Fine Arts. However, the idea was not followed up and the Lebanese state after its independence never thought of having recourse to him or of honoring him, apart from decorating him with the Order of the Cedar in May of 1958.

When in 1964 he was obliged to give up his studio and his little garden in Khandak el-Ghamik, which he himself had caused to be built in 1922 on the spacious property of his father Daoud Corm, his health went rapidly downhill. A surgical operation in 1966 gave him another five years of life. In that same year, he put on show at the Paris spring Salon two portraits that brought him several orders, which however the state of his health prevented him from fulfilling.

Corm’s Essay on Art and Civilisation of the year 1966 is a violent indictment against the corrosive influence of both Stalinist Marxism and American commercialism on contemporary arts and a denunciation of the artistic fashions launched with the backing of publicity campaigns. In this essay, Georges Corm vehemently expresses not only all his nostalgia for the classical humanism with which he himself was totally imbued but also his faith in the emergence of a new humanist civilization, one adapted to the needs of this industrial atomic era.

This was his one and only public cry of protest against the civilisation of his century which had made him suffer in more than one way, a cry which even today at this turn of the century is not without some strange echoes in those mystic-religious fundamentalist movements resurfacing in the Middle East and even in the countries of the West. Once this shudder of revolt was done with, expressed despite his natural reserve, the artist passed the last years of his life in silence and reflection, so conscious was he of his approaching departure. Only a few faithful pupils such as the deeply devoted Joseph Matar continued to surround him with their affection, and it also gave him the greatest pleasure to receive that other great solitary, Omar Onsi. He passed quietly away in the evening of December 13th, 1971, bearing with him all the charm of a romantic Lebanon now gone forever, one that this work is trying to bring to life.

There can be no doubt that it was Marie Corm, his spouse so self-effacing but always present in his life, who best summed up this artist who had a foot in each of two centuries and therefore in each of two societies and yet never wished to compromise. He had, she said, a soul that was pure and authentic. It is true that he suffered from the incomprehension of the people around him. Yet, above all, he remained his true self and up till his final hours, he continued to impart to others the beauty that he bore within him.

May these pages and these reproductions help to open the way to this message of beauty which, like many other messages of Lebanon, has been covered with a thick and blood-soaked layer of dust by those very ones who in their conceit thought to build a Lebanon of earth symbol of universal humanism. This was the Lebanon of which the departed artist wrote in his youth:
Oh, my country, yours are the loveliest hymns of glory and the loveliest hymns of love!
In any case, his life and his work have fully and faithfully fulfilled this promise.

Georges. G. Corm,
Beirut, September 1980