Georges David Corm

The Lebanese landscape / Self-portraits: Uncontested Master of Nature (Le Maître incontesté de la nature)

The Lebanese landscape:
Extracts from an article The Uncontested Master of Nature (Le Maître incontesté de la nature), by Ethel Adnan.

The Lebanese landscape is particularly difficult for a painter. It is beautiful, as is only too clear. It is dramatic, jagged, sundered, full of surprises, and vigorous. The eye has hardly had time enough to become used to a contour when there is a change. Comparatively small mathematically speaking, it yet gives the impression of great dimensions and is even grandiose in places. This evident beauty of the Lebanese scene is a snare for the artist, for it acts like a real mirage. There are sketches of a corner of the sea, of some trees, of a bend in the road, studies which are both precise and swift, snapshots that seize the essential structure of the forms. These sketches are always sharp, bare, belonging to that aspect of the spirit of the painter which is incisive and without pity. From the self-portraits to these drawings of prosaic nature, there is a passage which is quite natural though not very evident. They all bear witness however to an equal power of perception.

The oil landscapes are among the best in Lebanese painting. Only Saliba Douaihy (before her voyage to America) and Omar Onsi were able to render the Lebanese countryside with the ability of Corm.

Mountain scenery in Lebanon is bathed in a light which dissolves into a blue smoke. The problem for the painter is to render the force of the rock of which the eye is aware as hiding behind the impalpable mist which surrounds and covers it. The task is almost inhuman.
When Cézanne paints a house in Provence, there are real shadows and colours before him. When he paints trees, there are solid forms that he can easily express. It is only when he paints Sainte Victoire Mountain that there is a problem like the one facing the Lebanese landscape artist, that of a mountain which is at one and the same time massive and unreal. This incidentally explains why he passed his whole life stumbling against this problem, always coming up against it, until his dying day. This mountain was the contradiction that he had to resolve, the challenge he had to take up, the truth he had to face.

Georges Corm attacked the Lebanese scene that was the most difficult to put on canvas. He did not paint the little mountain dwellings, the gardens with their wonderful play of shadows, but studied the mountain itself, with its great valleys that descend in diagonal lines, with arid stretches studded with villages. Seen from afar, these landscapes melt into the light and one has to bring their colours to life without however betraying the grey or rose tints into which they lose themselves. George Corm succeeds admirably and together with those we have mentioned he will always remain the uncontested master of nature in Lebanon.

But Lebanon is not only a country of mountains. These plunge down to the sea sometimes gently and sometimes abruptly and the coast itself presents the painter with new difficulties. There can be no question of painting the coastline in summer, for then it is drowned in a blaze of sunlight. But in autumn, winter and the early spring, the season, unique in the richness of its colours, gives subjects of passionate interest. I am thinking in particular of those seascapes that are both subtle and austere, communicating all the mystery of the encounter between earth and ocean. Georges Corm does not stop at the anecdote, at all the sensual shimmering iridescence that Georges Cyr has rendered so well, nor above all at the charm and folklore of the Ain Mreisseh genre, but rather at the coast grasped in all its purely planetary mysterious simplicity.

The same may be said of that other aspect of the Lebanese coastline, one where it is more sandy than rocky. The south side of Beirut, as George Corm once knew it up to the early nineteen-sixties, presented a quite peculiar and striking character. Four elements were always there to divide the space between them, namely the sky, the great diagonal line of the mountain range sloping down as far as Tyre, the gentler slope of a wide stretch of sand, and finally the sea itself. The colours often complemented each other in a most astonishing way; between the sky, either blue or grey, and the sea, either blue or green, there was always the contrast between the mauve where the mountains disappeared and the orange colour of the sand. These views that I have so often contemplated from the Corniche were painted by Georges Corm with a power and acuteness of vision that for me now bring the past to life again.
I should also like to mention the studies of the terrain surrounding Beirut, half way up between the city and the mountain. The sand changes to rock and its orange colour to a deep rose, like the struggle on the borderline between desert and forest. A few pine trees, so typical of the Lebanese scene, begin on this heath to march as it were in single file. From these places now almost entirely vanished Georges Corm has produced masterpieces.

One cannot end this study without at least mentioning those paintings and drawings of boats on the Nile and of room interiors and the still-lifes.

What should be particularly noted is the unity of this pictorial work underlying all the diversity of its subjects. For example, a painter who goes from portraiture to still life is not an eclectic if the workmanship is consistent and the quality does not suffer. One might even go further and say that, with the exception of a few society portraits, there is a still deeper unity in all this work; there is a Platonist meaning which transmits itself through the painting, an idealism, the presence of the painter’s meditation behind the object described. The boats on the Nile express the long, unbroken historical duration of Egypt, the Lebanese landscapes recall the religious feelings existing in this part of the world, and a miniature watercolour of a divided watermelon shows the passion for living. So it is that behind this strangely discreet and scattered work there stands a visionary of genius.

The items of information are taken from the book "Georges Daoud Corm, peintre et portraitiste libanais, 1896-1971", Beirut, 1981, bilingual French-Arabic, 167 pages, cloth-covered copies numbered 100 to 600 and leather-covered copies numbered 1 to 100. The book is available in gallery Bekhazi Beirut.

Extracts from an article The Uncontested Master of Nature (Le Maître incontesté de la nature), by Ethel Adnan.

But as for myself, what strikes me most in this work are the self-portraits of Georges Corm. After, we may suppose, having studied numberless faces, he has left of his own face some staggering evidence. This was a strange destiny for a painter who could see himself as one would like others to see oneself, and an extraordinary power.

We have one self-portrait done when he was young and several done in the years of his maturity. When young he looks at himself with the eyes of Dorian Gray. One sees in him Alexandria, with a refined sensuality that has come down the ages, a certain heaviness weighing on the eyelids, the feverish tint of a young man, a rose without any cosmetic, a head which by the extreme fragility of its colours rivals the solidity of the marbles of the young Ephebians of Alexandrine Hellenism. The painter knows that he has a twofold expression that we grasp from the picture; there is the regard of the young æsthete philosopher who judges all those who look at him and also that of the young artist whose indifference to his public allows him to reflect on his technical problems and on his interior torment. On seeing this portrait I thought of those slender and intense autobiographies of Joyce or Evtoushenki, and of those admirable self-portraits in which Modigliani knows - and knows how to prove – that he is a dandy who goes far beyond mere dandyism.

There is one self-portrait that I would happily entitle The Artist in his Laboratory. Georges Corm sets to work in his studio wearing a white blouse, like a doctor. How often, surely, he must have examined behind the wrinkles the personal tragedy of some woman who wished at any price to be seen only under her most superficial aspect, the one that she judged to be her best!
And is the studio not a laboratory where the artist studies each form much as a biologist might study an amœba? On the configuration of a flower its very being depends. From the movement of the body of a street vendor, one can divine his joy or his effort. Every studio of a true artist is the crucible of his personal alchemy, of a learning that cannot be transmitted to others; it is a laboratory for just one scholar and for just one knowledge.

But self-knowledge could be no more than the ultimate knowledge for this being who was essentially classical in his way of thinking. Georges Corm looks on himself without pity and above all with an unimaginable interior concentration. This particular painting surprises him in all his depth. The eyes haggard but sure, the high forehead, the thin erect body existing only to bear a pure psychological frame, with all these the dandy has disappeared. He stands in front of us in his spirit at the summit of his ability, someone knowing the past, come from afar, but having a spiritual force like that of steel penetrating the future. This is a self-portrait which should figure among the best-known in the history of art.

There is also a portrait of the artist at the time of his maturity. Neither dandy nor surgeon of the soul, the artist here is at an intermediate interior level, rather as if he were telling his own life story. This man of a pure aristocratic elegance looks at the world as he looks at himself, without real passion, without either favourable or unfavourable prejudice, but with a perfect sensitiveness to the fundamental nobility of all that exists. He seems to define himself with a keen awareness of his own worth, a worth that experience and familiarity with his own life have proved to him. The true artist is always in contact with his subconscious and with his temporal history, knowing nothing if he does not know himself. The quality of this portrait is a sort of guarantee of his other knowledge.