'Nuits V. Dimensions: 100 x 105 cm. On the newspaper which was laid down onto the canvas earlier on, layer of modifiable varnish and of oily emulsion paint. After drying off (7 to 10 days), work with oil paints resumed. Strenuous work and impastos. Modifiable varnish, that is left to dry for a night, then impasto work resumed. The next day, with a fresh eye, work with oily emulsion paint on the impasto resumed, giving a very interesting, semi-glistening effect. Several days later, oil painting resumed. The newspaper is visible in the white area at the bottom. One of the last works from the Nuits series.'
(From the artist's notebook; translated from French).
Shafic Abboud had always been fascinated by night, because of its atmosphere, the light of the sky and of the coastal cities of Lebanon, the sparkles of which he enjoyed watching from the top of the hills in the clear night. In France, he suffered from insomnia, but also willingly woke up in the middle of the night to smell and feel the night whilst contemplating its colours changing according to the seasons of the year and the time of the night. There are several works of which the titles refer to a time of the day including Sous la tente ('Under the tent'), Coup de Lune ('Moonburn'), Monsieur Boulos, La Fête du Thym ('The Feast of Thyme'), La première rame du RER ('The first train of the RER'), Naissance du Jour ('Birth of Day'), Nuits ('Nights'), Un matin ('One morning'), Un pays, un matin, un café ('A country, a morning, a coffee'), and L'Aube ('Dawn'), his last signed painting that was exhibited in 2003. He began working on his Nuits series in 1988, in his house on the Loire river banks in Sury-en-Vaux, yet the paintings were all painted in his studio by the Parc Montsouris. Just like his Chambres series, he produced both small and large paintings for the Nuits series.
The late 1980s was a crucial period of his life and oeuvre. Lebanon was important to him, but the Civil War kept him far away from it until 1993 and as a result, he went through a lengthy time, confronted by moral depression and aesthetic doubt. During those years, Abboud produced significant psychological introspections and his childhood memories from Lebanon thus emerged on the surface of his paintings, as had his nostalgia from his regular winter trips, between the mountains and the city. This transfiguration of childhood memories generated dozens of paintings, realised in various successive groups: Chambres in 1987, Nuits in 1988, Souvenirs de l'Enfance ('Childhood Memories') in 1989, Cafés engloutis ('Burried coffee shops') in 1990.
From an aesthetic point of view, the Nuits series is seminal in Shafic Abboud's oeuvre because of its uniqueness and rarity. The shapes and colours converging in the Nuits series resonate neither Pierre Bonnard, nor Nicolas de Staël, but rather the great Russian master Vassili Kandinsky. Abboud's Nuits compositions can be compared to Kandinsky's Fauvist period (1905-1909) and his works painted during his return to Russia (1914-1921), as both artists were influenced by folkloric imagery and tales, one Lebanese and the other Russian, and they were equally affected by their poignant nostalgia for their home country. Although twentieth century art historians often mention the German-Swiss artist Paul Klee's trip to Tunisia (13 days in April 2014) and its influence on his oeuvre, they regularly omit Kandinsky's long travels to Tunisia in 1904-1905, where he found inspiration and affinities with the Russian traditions. A notable parallel between Abboud's Nuits V whirling composition and Kandinsky's folkloric, expressionistic and almost musical paintings is apparent when compared to the latter's masterpiece, Moscow I, dated 1916. Yet it seems that the aesthetic of Abboud's abstract expressionism characterised by his multi-coloured thick impastos, which he describes in his own artist's book, echoes that of Impressionist pioneer Claude Monet, particularly the later works he produced when he was almost blind, such as The Rose Path, Giverny of 1920-1922.
We thank Christine Abboud for kindly providing copies of pages from the artist's notebook and Claude Lemand for his research and contribution to this note.