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Please note that the correct inch dimensions of this work are 21¾ x 29¾in. and not as stated in the printed catalogue.
A MASTER OF ABSTRACTION
Christie's is proud and honoured to be offering this season three seminal paintings by Saliba Douaihy, each of which encapsulate a pivotal time in the artist's life and career.
Saliba Douaihy was born in 1912 in the picturesque town of Ehden, in the Northern mountains of Lebanon. Exposed to art at an early age when he discovered the religious paintings inside the churches in his hometown, he was encouraged by his family and friends to develop his talent and pursue his love for art. He was sent by his father to Beirut to study art where he soon started working in the atelier of the Lebanese artist Habib Srour in the capital. Srour, celebrated for his classical and traditional style, was in much demand as a portrait painter of important religious, social and political Lebanese and Arab personalities of his day. As he was commissioned a great number of religious paintings, the young Saliba was often involved in the projects as his assistant, an experience that left an indelible mark on the artist. In time, Douaihy went on to create his own distinctive style, much inspired by his homeland's landscapes, rustic villages its local architecture and pastel hues.
In the fall of 1932, Douaihy was granted a scholarship from the Lebanese government to pursue his studies in Paris at the prestigious Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts. In the French capital, Douaihy studied oil painting, drawing and portraiture, as an apprentice of Paul Albert Laurence and Louis Roger as well as fresco painting under Duco de la Haille. There, he met the Iraqi artist Faeq Hassan whose painting drew his admiration. Two years later, the young Douaihy was awarded the school's top prize and successively exhibited at the Salon des Artistes.
After his graduation in 1936, Douaihy returned to Lebanon as an established and prolific painter opening his own studio. Back in his homeland, Douaihy focused on his own interpretation of the Lebanese landscapes. He began to paint villages, houses, valleys, monasteries and villagers. Like a classical painter, he travelled around and depicted his surrounding landscapes without altering them. The rustic scenes that were painted during those years are very rare to find and they reveal the beauty and purity of nature as much as that of the artist's soul. Acclaimed by the various communities in the city, he was granted many commissions and was asked to teach at the Collége de la Sagesse. Soon after, the Patriarch Antoine Arida commissioned him to paint the interior of the Maronite Church in Diman and Saliba went on to execute a monumental painting of the natural scenes of Wadi Qadisha, a composition in which he was attentive to the movement of bodies and their ties with their surrounding environment. His career would take a crucial shift during those years as he carved out a unique and distinctive style with a specific attention to colours and chromatic harmony, a style that would later nourish his international success.
The American art critics that encountered Saliba Douaihy's paintings during his time on the East coast referred to them as truly Mediterranean, pointing out the artist's warm palette of red, orange and yellow hues. The colours Douaihy used indeed replete with life and warmth although he was willing to move away from his so-called provincial style.
Working from his spacious studio in the loft of the Maronite Church of Our Lady of Lebanon in Brooklyn Heights, he achieved his unique abstract and minimalistic style in painting and was meanwhile commissioned by the Church for various paintings, including the magnificent stained glass windows and large mural over the altar, allowing him to sporadically shift back to his classical style and education. Shortly after, he returned to Lebanon having been commissioned by Qablan al Makary to complete the painting of the church of St John the Baptist in Zgharta. This short Lebanese interval amidst his New York experience allowed him to look at Byzantine art, Assyrian art and ancient manuscripts as sources of inspiration.
In the late 1950s, back in New York, Douaihy received the Medal of High Honour from the President of the Lebanese Republic who recognised his incredible career and talent. At that stage in his career, he had experimented with Abstract Expressionism and various contemporary styles, reading extensively about Immanuel Kant's philosophy, the colour practices of Josef Albers and was fascinated by the simplicity of Far Eastern prints. As a result, he dedicated himself to his depictions flat surfaces and monochromatic forms, applying straight lines and defining shapes by hard edges, searching for the sublime by depriving his paintings of superfluous features and rather applying spontaneous brushstrokes. Douaihy thrived at reaching an absolute simplification.
PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE COLLECTION, MASSACHUSETTS