'I only stop when both colour and light match. I cannot escape from colour it is my fate and nature - my eyes must have been dazzled forever. The impact between two colours creates light, but whether it be true or false, this "theory" does make me paint'. (Chafic Abboud, artist's notebook, May 1982)
The tremendous success of the Chafic Abboud retrospective, which recently took place at the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris (March-August 2011), clearly reflects the international recognition of Abboud as one of the most important modern Lebanese artists of the 20th century. Abboud's arrival in Paris in 1947 undeniably marked a turning point in his artistic career. With the death that same year of one of the 'Nabis' fathers Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947), Abboud's compositions would always subtly express the artist's admiration and interpretation of the way in which both Bonnard and his fellow Nabis artist Edouard Vuillard (1868-1940) sought to depict light and its intrinsic dimension. Yet Abboud also assimilated the different techniques and approaches to abstract art being explored by Roger Bissire (1886-1964) and Nicolas de Stal (1914- 1955) at that time. His works of the early 1950s are a witness of Abboud's familiarity with abstraction as they show a conscious and sudden move from his paintings embedded with a folkloric Lebanese character towards an almost dream-like Parisian abstract art.
Composition (Beirut) of 1972 is perhaps one of Abboud's most intriguing paintings with its unusual composition of a deep majestic blue background from which emerge vibrant pigments and organic shapes amalgamated into a small opening at the centre of the canvas. With no obvious figurative element present in this painting, giving it the label 'abstract' work would seem incorrect, as Abboud used these abstract shapes and juxtapositions of colours as artistic vehicles to capture the essence of light. Hence the seemingly kaleidoscopic area at the centre of the painting ingenuously creates not only a dramatic contrast with the monochromatic background but further provokes a game of reflection of light between the different pigments, enhanced by the thick white and bright ochre streaks of paint to the right and below this dazzling flecked patch.
Through these white stretches of impasto, Abboud seems to pay tribute to Nicolas de Stal and specifically to one of the latter's masterpieces, Le Parc Des Princes, executed in 1952. This series comprised of six paintings exploring the theme of the famous Parisian sports stadium called 'Parc Des Princes'. De Stal and his wife attended a France-Sweden football match there in March 1952, which transformed the painter with all its colours and movements, inspiring him for his series depicting the footballers in action. Abboud's Composition (Beirut) appears to particularly resonate the second version, one of the two most monumental compositions of the series. De Stal's Parc des Princes works were highly criticised by his fellow abstract painters as he was accused to have abandoned abstraction to give way to figuration. The paintings are nonetheless still very abstract, yet like Abboud's compositions, they refer to a specific scene or memory from reality. De Stal's flat organic shapes of impasto are employed to represent the footballers on the field, whereas Abboud similarly displays the paint onto the canvas with the aim of depicting the light and atmosphere extracted from the scene he is painting.
Rich textures in the painting's surface, complex patterned areas, creative medleys of radiant pigments glowing on the canvas and delicate hints to reality are some of the ingredients necessary for the making of Chafic Abboud's unparalleled compositions, of which the present lot is a unique example. Vacillating between abstract and figurative art, his paintings are a manifesto for freedom, colour, light and joy as well as being a permanent bridge between the art scenes of France and Lebanon, and that of Lebanon and the Middle East.