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Brief history of art in Lebanon - The Modernism
Brief history of art in Lebanon - The Modernism
Editorial Team

Modern art is succinctly defined, based on underlying ideas, larger movements, and particular artists that made major contributions to its development. The third part of our series will discuss the modernist trend in Lebanese art.

After the First World War appeared a new generation of Lebanese artists who demonstrate a larger freedom than their seniors. Heading this generation are Mustafa Farrukh (1901-1957), Qaysar al-Jumayyil (1889-1958), Umar al-Unsi (1901-1969), Saliba al-Duwayhi (1912-1994) and Rachid Wahba (1917-1993). Similarly to their predecessors these artists start their career by a stay abroad where they learned the principles of drawing and assimilation of a technique.

Farrukh grew up in a family where his father was illiterate and worked in the maintenance of copper utensils. Al-Jymmayyil used to break the stones on the roads of the mountain and to study as much as he could to become a pharmacist. Wahba, son of a teacher, an art passionate, sold his modest share in the paternal house to dedicate himself to the unique object of his passion. There is much to say on the deprival life they led and about their passion to improve themselves in this field.

Al-Duwahy who inaugurated his career with the decoration of the patriarchal church of Diman and the painting of villagers and highlanders, cuts himself out of all this rapidly (1950) to delve in the complex experience of informal art. Al-Jumayyil, a highlander as well and author of the historic painting "La Bataille de Anjar" (the battle of Anjar), adopted in painting the poet-subjective style that made the authentic traces of his surrounding disappear. Like Al –Salibi, he devoted himself finally to the portrait and painted a big number of nudes.

Three painters from Beirut dedicated themselves to painting the scenery of the Lebanese shore and mountains: Farrukh, Wahba, and al-Unsi. They left pieces for the future generations where with love are painted, each mountain each stone or tree of the Lebanese scene. Images of rural Lebanon which in faithfully restituting the geographic cadre evoke the old days Lebanon, portraits of natives wearing the local costume filled of traditions and history.

With these artists whose role was to continue the work of the artistic renaissance on new basis, the teaching of art made its entry in the schools and the artistic culture starts to make its way to the large public. In 1923, the Committee of the friends of national museums and archeological sites is founded. The 30s witnessed the arrival of new elements which strongly contributed in making popular the art in the Lebanon of today. There is first in 1937 the foundation in of the Academy of Fine Arts which attracted at the same time the classic and modern Lebanese, French and Italian masters.

This foundation was preceded by a series of exhibitions encouraged by the authorities of the French mandate wishing to stress on the cultural and civilizing aspect of the French politics. Beirut finds itself then in the middle of a cultural and artistic movement animated by Lebanese artists and animators who came from France or other countries.

Among the first exhibitions that were organized between 1930 and 1960 it is worth to note:

  1. The first exhibition of the school “Ecole des Arts et Métiers” in 1931 in which participated Rachid Wahba as well as Qaysar al – Jumayil, who was back from Paris with a drawing made with charcoal representing a naked woman. In the conservative milieu of the time, this piece caused a lot of curiosity and more than an indiscrete question.
  2. The second exhibition at the “Ecole des Arts et Métiers” in 1932.
  3. The exhibition of the French painter Georges Cyr (1881-1964) who came to Lebanon in 1933 and settled in Beirut. He influenced a number of Lebanese painters of the young generation.
  4. St. Georges exhibition organized in 1935 by the La Syrie newspaper. Artists from the first generation (Habib Surur and Philippe Murani) as well as from the second generation (Mustafa Farrukh and Rachid Wahba) participated.
  5. The big exhibition of 1936 in the reception area of the Parliament of Beirut.
  6. The exhibition of Duhur el Chuwayr, organized in 1947 on the occasion of the first congress that the international organization held in Beirut in that year.
  7. In 1953, the exhibition of the Lebanese Art: The bird around the world.

Therefore almost all the after-war generation feels a kind of uprooting and has the impression of being a stranger in its own country. Some of these artists were more considered colorists than painters. Thus Michel Al-Mir (1930-1970) after having lived his career captured by the line of drawing knew a dreadful end.

The characteristic of this generation is one of a study and research art. It is to precise though that, after having been carried away in the whirl of the occidental art and after having tasted the bitterness of uprooting and confusion, some artists were finally able to overcome this test. Others remained a little bit outside this upheavals because of their solid classic base formation carried out in the workshops of their elderly from the second and third generations and at the Lebanese Academy of Fine Arts.

The fourth part in our four part series will tackle the Transformation. Back to fhe first part tackle the The Awakening and the second part the Modernism

MOOVTOO Exclusive: This article was originally written by Abdallah Naaman in French and has been translated into English

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