Modern Lebanese master Paul Guiragossian is known for his distinguished expressionist paintings, where ordinary people are gracefully dignified with noble poses and elegant proportions. Christie’s is delighted to offer the present work entitled Al-Risala (La Lettre), that offers insight into the ability of the artist to convey expressive human emotions with great power.
Transcending from his eternal longing for his own mother and a reflection of his upbringing, one of the most recurring themes in Guiragossian's oeuvre is groups of women. Within his compositions the figure of the woman has become the symbol of hope, of continuity and of freedom paying homage to women and more specifically to the maternal figure and motherhood.
In the intimate composition of this seminal example by the artist, a central mother figure robed in yellow, sits with her bride-to-be daughter as she appears dressed in a white wedding gown whilst crowned by an adorned veil. Emerging as a Mary-like figure – a nod to the Byzantine icons that remained an integral influence in his works - singled out against the vivid and vibrant red background, the open letter in the mother’s hands suggests that she is passing on to her a life message, as the title of the composition demonstrates; her last piece of advice before letting her daughter embark on a new journey. The vibrant shades of red used for the background, adding warmth to the piece, depict this genuine love and affection the two figures have for each other. Likewise, the contrast in colours observed demonstrates the difference between the two women’s lives. The white shade chosen for the bride’s gown represents the purity of the soul and the freshness of new beginnings, while the combination of the darker tones of yellow and black, used for the mother’s dress, exhibit both joy and melancholy at once.
Although Guiragossian’s obsession with the human form is evident in his work, it is interesting to note the lack of facial features imparted to his characters. Woman and child become faceless imprints delineated by a wide and skilfully applied brushstroke, their psychological loneliness and corporeal isolation becomes portrayed through patches of colour that are adjacent but ironically never overlap; although they sit united, they remain clearly separate. What makes this work so particular is his use of a bold vibrant and rich red to frame his two very clearly defined and identifiable characters. Giving the piece more familiarity, this allows more intimacy with the personas and a better chance for the viewer to understand their identities whilst highlighting the passion and deep affection for. This theme of tainted or illusory freedom and happiness infuses Guiragossian's paintings. With every happy event comes and element of sadness; the mother figure is happy yet sad that they will have to part, and auspicious day such as a wedding gets tainted so to speak by slightly visible ghost-like silhouette in the background between the two women, either a reflection of things to come or a burden of the past that remains overhead.
Al-Risala (La Lettre) marks an exceptional period within the artist’s oeuvre that shows the transition from more figurative to abstract works through his vibrant colour palette and dazzling intense brushstrokes that lay the groundwork for his future completely abstracted works. The shift in styles is clearly visible through the thickness of the paint and the larger, less detail-oriented brushstrokes, giving it an unusual texture. The cross-road this painting is at, in addition to the distinctive tones it parades, makes it a very rare gem among the celebrated painter’s works.