Christie's is delighted to present three paintings, which respectively come from the private American collections of the extended family of Saliba Douaihy, that perfectly capture the signature abstraction and coloration of the legendary Lebanese Modern artist. Saliba Douaihy has a way with colour and form. His bright canvases famously feature vivid blues, reds, yellows, oranges and greens that are punctuated with sharp, angular lines, which at once separate each colour as well as unite them. The brilliant hues and jagged edges thereby create lustrous and abstract works.
Born in 1912 in the town of Ehden in the mountains of Northern Lebanon, Douaihy was mesmerised by the natural and scenic landscapes of his native land from which he drew inspiration. Inspired by the quaint villages, churches and pastel architecture of rural Lebanon, Douaihy began painting at an early age. A young Douaihy moved to Beirut in 1928 and flourished as an artist under the apprenticeship of the well-known painter Habib Srour and later went to study in France after he received a scholarship from the Lebanese government to attend the School of Decorative Arts in Paris from 1932 to 1936. During his time in Paris, Douaihy engaged with the Salon des Artistes Français and the Salon des Réalites Nouvelles, two prestigious organisations of French artists. His initial works were a combination of figurative art, classical scenes and landscapes.
In 1950, Douaihy moved to the United States where he settled for the next quarter of century. There he participated in group exhibitions at the New York International Fair, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and also at the renowned Guggenheim Museum. Furthermore, the Lebanese artist presented solo exhibitions of his works at the Art and Science Centre of New Hampshire,
the Contemporary Gallery of New York and the North Carolina Museum of Art. A few works that were on display in the latter institution's 1978 exhibition called The Art of Saliba Douaihy are now in the permanent collection of Mathaf in Doha.
By the time he had relocated to New York in the 1950s, Douaihy was already an established and celebrated artist in his native homeland, where, in 1956, the artist was awarded the National Order of the Cedar, the second highest government conferred honour in Lebanon. In the decades to come, he would win a prize given by the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts and win Gold Medals in 1980 from two Italian academies of art, Delle Arte and Del Lavorno.
Douaihy established his renowned style of abstraction after moving to New York City in the 1950s. Prior to moving to the United States, Douaihy began reading about Modern art. Having already established himself in his homeland, he decided to emigrate to the USA to explore the new facets of modernist paintings, to which he had limited exposure in Lebanon. Charged by the energy of the exploding art scene and discovering the works of his American contemporaries, including Abstract Expressionists Mark Rothko, Hans Hoffman and Ad Reinhardt, Douaihy moved away from his earlier academic style and began his much sought-after series of minimalist abstract paintings. By the end of the 1950s, the artist's works encompassed of flat monochromatic forms, fine lines and sharp edges, anticipating the more successful half of his illustrious career. Until his death in 1994, Douaihy continued to paint his minimalist canvases, which remained the epitome of artistic simplicity in both colour and form.
The present three works showcase Douaihy's unique interpretation of infinite space, which he represents as the interlinking of asymmetrical planes, each one filled in with a distinctive yet complementary colour, appearing to extend beyond the boundaries of the picture. The beauty in the paintings, with their strong and opposing colours, resides in the overall harmony and coherence - a harmony that references nature in that, despite its myriad colours, there is an overarching unity in the natural world. Few slender shafts of colour intersect or border each colourful plane, giving them depth.
For Douaihy, the colours he uses in his oeuvres are representative of the captivating Lebanese landscape. Two of the present compositions are awash with an expanse of vibrant blue, which references the bright blue Mediterranean Sea. The saturated shades of light, dark yellows and reds harken an image of the sky and rich soil of the artist's native land. In true Douaihy form, the use of these flat colours imparts a sense of two-dimensionality to the paintings, yet the bursts of colours suggest depth. However, there are no hard and fast rules for the Lebanese artist regarding colours in that in one work, Douaihy could use blue to represent the sea while he could use red in another. He believed that harmony of colours was more important in a painting than the accurate representation of a scene. Douaihy's nostalgic recollections of the Lebanese landscapes are endearingly captured in the present works.