César Gemayel’s Sleeping Beauty
César Gemayel (1898-1958)
As a young student, Gemayel started out studying pharmacology, to which he was genuinely devoted. But he also was a gifted painter who was taught arts by Khalil Saleeby, another Lebanese master painter, until eventually, his talent took full root in him. Gemayel was considered as a leading and pioneering figure alongside painters like Youssef Howayek, Douad Corm, Omar Onsi, Saliba Douaihy, Moustafa Farroukh and a handful of others.
Like Saleeby before him, Gemayel embarked in 1927 on a “pilgrimage” to Paris to learn firsthand about the various techniques and movements at the Académie Julian. The Académie was set up in 1868 as a private studio for art students. Its records of famous painters included Matisse, Vuillard, Derain, Bonnard, as well as another illustrious Lebanese artist – Gibran Kahlil Gibran. At the Académie, Gemayel was exposed to many different styles, but he was most attracted to Impressionism and Fauvism.
His hard work and natural talent was recognized in 1931, when he won first prize at the Paris Exhibition Coloniale Internationale. The prestigious award set Gemayel firmly on the path of art, and he returned to his native Lebanon, where he abandoned any thoughts of being a pharmacist and turned his full attention to developing his painting.
In 1943, Gemayel and Alexis Boutros founded the Lebanese Academy of Fine Arts (French: L’Académie libanaise des Beaux-Arts) also known as ALBA. At the time, there was a growing interest in art in Lebanon, facilitated by prominent philanthropists such as Alfred Sursock, Henri Pharaon, Omar Daouk and Camille Eddé.
Gemayel was an exceedingly sensual artist. His themes: The Female Nude, Glowing Flowers, Landscapes Green and Red, Dances and “Dabkés”, the Occasional Epic Evocation – are the product of his thirst for living, expressed through painting. The various techniques he employed reflected that same impulsive curiosity.
The artist however, followed a single style of painting for most of his career, avoiding the exploration of new movements such as cubism or abstract that some of his peers successfully did. But despite this lack of adventurism, César Gemayel is regarded as one of the founding fathers of Lebanese painting, and has inspired many who came after him.
In 1958, César Gemayel died from a heart attack at the age of 60. Despite a long time love, he never married and had no children.
The artist is portrayed on a Lebanese airmail stamp issued in 1974, in recognition of his work.