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Christie's is delighted to present an exquisite selection of paintings from the Moughanni Private Collection, Beirut. Consisting of works by esteemed Lebanese painters and pioneers Paul Guiragossian and Elie Kanaan, the Moughanni Collection encapsulates the essence of modern Lebanese painting.
The late 1960s and early 1970s were considered to be Lebanon's golden age, abundant in culture and rich in diversity. It was this fondly remembered time prior to the 1975 Civil War which gave birth to a myriad of artistic talent and developed a nascent art market into one that is now strong and established on an international level. After moving to Beirut, Mr & Mrs. Moughanni were one of the earliest visionaries to foresee a bright future for Lebanese art. Pursuing a passion for collecting, they selectively acquired a unique compilation of works that shed light into the oeuvre of two of the Middle East's most coveted and fascinating painters. Both Paul Guiragossian and Elie Kanaan provide two dynamically different, yet beautifully abstracted visual perspectives on their Lebanese heritage. Manifested through the individuality of their brushstrokes, their paintings evoke a true sense of both patriotism and mastering of artistic technique
The collection of Guiragossian paintings from the 1960s and 1970s explores the breadth of the artist's stylistic diversity. Handpicked by the artist himself as the epitome of his early paintings, each of these three works maps his progression as an artist through fundamental stages of technical experimentation. His recurring motif of the abstracted female or maternal form was consistently manipulated throughout his oeuvre through colour, form and size, allowing each canvas to bring a new perspective on character, intimacy and depth.
In Murmures (lot 11 in the present sale), Guiragossian gives the impression of a familial setting. The warmth of the green background provides depth to the canvas, juxtaposed by the contrast of lighter and darker tones upon it. Along the circumference of these huddled figures, a yellow line runs through the entirety of the canvas; not only does this act as the unifier between the featureless characters of this composition, but it also works as a metaphorical bloodline which passes through generations and bonds each individual. The unfortunate memories of his mother leaving him at a young age innately inform Guiragossian's works and it is undoubted that these notions of family and maternity are the artist's favoured themes, as if to exorcise his own demons through his art.
A strong sense of sentimentality has become synonymous to the work of Guiragossian. In the seated composition (lot 12 in the present sale), the viewer gets an intimate sight into a maternal scene. Teeming with personal feelings, one is struck by the level of emotional commitment he bestows onto this canvas. Having been left by his mother at a young age, Guiragossian devoted a great deal of sincerity to the subject of a mother-child relationship and often refered to the Christian iconography of Maternity, as can be seen in the present work. The figure of the child draped in light blue hues symbolises the innocence and purity that define him. The figures surround the child as if to protect him and they create a sense of warmth, that clearly resonates the personal sentiments of the artist in light of his personal experiences as a child. The juxtaposition of colours onto the dark brown background create a sense of depth and balance that is recurrent in Guiragossian's oeuvre.
Guiragossian's third painting in the selection (lot 13 in the present sale) transports the audience into a different era of his works. Reminiscent of stained glass windows, his elongated canvas with lengthened female forms harmonise colour and shape to emphasise the bond between the figures. It is clear that the essence of Guiragossian's works is devoted to the composition of character relationships. Crafting visual diaries for the portrayal of intimate interactions between his figures, it is undoubted that he pays close attention to the bodies. While our eyes are immediately drawn to the bright freshness of the yellow figure against the white backdrop, it is coolly juxtaposed by the complimentary dark figures next to it, working to create an unusual formulation of space.
Elie Kanaan adopts a different approach to his method of abstraction. The decorative nature of his works are heightened through the use of expressionist style brush strokes and unique combinations of colour. Blurring the lines between reality and imagination, Kanaan's beautifully formulated canvases harmonise colour and subject matter to form nostalgic memories of a happier time in Lebanon and relate his travels prior to the Civil War.
St Paul de Vence (lot 16 in the present sale) is a unique and charming work by Kanaan. Through his expressive style, this idyllic picnic scene vividly portrays the warmth of European summers through a rich palette of warm yellows and whites. His technique harmonises the components on the canvas to create a celebration of French culture and tradition, assembled through the thick yet thoughtful application of paint. Through the meticulous orchestration of noncommittal traits, his reclining figure is portrayed in a beautifully abstracted way. This scene in the south of France leaves its details to the imagination of the viewer as it encapsulates the essence of a happy time of the artist's life in 1970.
Kanaan's romantic balcony scene (lot 15 in the present sale) transports us back in time. Again painted in the 1970s, this work is rich with a deeply symbolic meaning to the artist. Its profound sense of nostalgia of an evening balcony scene is reminiscent of peaceful times before the Civil War. The serenity of this mountainous landscape is evoked by a delicate use of colour and undoubted sense of emotion. The work is laced with a strong sense of nostalgia as we see a glass of white anise on the table, a common drink to sip on a summer evening in Lebanon. Here, Kanaan truly creates an intimate scene which enables us to experience a beautiful yet subtly patriotic Lebanese evening landscape and the composition carries the viewer away in his own memories of joyful moments.
Kanaan's abstracted blue composition (lot 14 in the present sale) provides us with an alternative manifestation of his technique. In contrast to his earlier works, the darkness of its palette show a paradigm shift in the artist's mood and method. With few decipherable features on the canvas, we see the artist's unique use of colour and space to create a hauntingly beautiful painting. The confidence of his brushstrokes support the notion of a far darker time in his life. Painted almost five years into the Lebanese Civil war in the 1980s, it is unsurprising that the colours and far more abstracted technique are used to reflect the ambiguity, chaos and foreboding sense of conflict, while maintaining the dignity and beauty of his harmoniously orchestrated canvases.
Christie's is honoured to have been entrusted with enchanting and seminal works from the Moughanni Collection. Looking into what defines the strength and continuity of Lebanese Modern art, this collection offers a broader vision into the artistic evolution and personal life stories of two of the most important and sought-after Lebanese artists of our time, Paul Guiragossian and Elie Kanaan.
PROPERTY FROM THE MOUGHANNI PRIVATE COLLECTION, BEIRUT
Post Lot Text
The Paul Guiragossian Foundation, Beirut, has kindly confirmed the authenticity of this work. We would like to thank the Paul Guiragossian Foundation for their assistance in researching this painting.