Cesar Gemayel is recognized as one of the pioneers of Lebanese modernism. Considered to be a member of the second generation of Lebanese modern painters, Gemayel marks a transition from the commissioned, academic portraits of his predecessors to the portrayal of landscapes, nudes, and still life in oil, watercolor, and pastel and his work is characterized by an experimentation with the light, color, and loose brushstroke associated with the tradition of European Impressionism.
Born in the village of 'Ain al-Touffaha, near Bikfaya, Gemayel originally sought to continue in the family business by studying pharmacology at the American University of Beirut. While a student, Gemayel apprenticed in the atelier of the Lebanese painter Khalil Saleeby (1870 - 1928), well known for his portraits and nudes painted with an Impressionist focus on light. In 1927, Gemayel traveled to Paris for three years to continue his artistic development at the Academie Julien. During this period, Gemayel developed an admiration for the work of the Impressionist artist Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841 - 1919).
In 1930, Gemayel returned to Beirut and dedicated himself to his art. In addition to a prolific body of work on paper, Gemayel made substantial contributions to the development in Lebanon of an infrastructure for the visual arts, most notably as a founding member of the Committee of Friends of the National Museums and Archaeological Sites (est. 1923) and through his teaching at L'Académie Libanaise des Beaux-Arts (ALBA, est. 1937), where he served as a founding faculty member and at one time director of the department of Art and Architecture, established in 1943.
The early influence of Khalil Saleeby on Gemayel is evident throughout the younger artist's body of work—from his choice of subject matter to the light colors of his palette and visible, loose brushstroke. Himself a student of both the American Impressionist John Singer Sargent (1856 - 1925) and Renoir, Saleeby earned a reputation as a social portraitist who worked in the manner of the Impressionists: the application of paint directly onto the canvas in short, thick brushstrokes. Like both Renoir and Saleeby, Gemayel exhibited a fascination with the depiction of the female nude, an important staple of academic training and thus one basis of art making throughout European art academies. For Impressionist artists like Renoir, the nude body provided an ideal subject through which to overturn artistic conventions and explore the dematerialization of form with light. Similarly, Gemayel's own extraordinary body of nudes in oil, pastel, and watercolor document a sustained experimentation with the effects of light infused color and rhythmic brushstrokes.
Gemayel's figural work is accompanied by a substantial body of landscapes and still life that document the artist's creativity and technical versatility. Painting in various degrees of abstraction, Gemayel captured the horizons, agriculture, and architecture of Lebanon, during a moment when its landscape emerged as an integral component in visualizing an emergent nation-state. Equally modernist in their abstraction are Gemayel's still life paintings. In particular, there is a series of vases overflowing with vibrant flowers set against a background built up through layered brushstrokes. In certain canvases, the petals and leaves of the flowers themselves dissolve into a dynamic array of patterned brushstrokes. Stretching out to the edge of the canvas, Gemayel's flowers hover between a three-dimensional painted reality and a two-dimensional patterned surface.
Throughout his career, Gemayel exhibited abroad and in Lebanon, showing regularly at the Parliament and the UNESCO building in Beirut. He received First Prize at the Exposition Coloniale in Paris in 1930 and was later presented with the Lebanese National Order of the Cedar. Subsequent to his premature death due to a heart attack in 1958, the Sursock Museum in Beirut honored Gemayel's memory at the 1964 Salon d'Automne.
|1965 - 1966||Tribute to Gemayel at Vth Salon at Sursock Museum, Beirut, Lebanon|
|1930 - 1950s ||Various exhibitions in Beirut, Lebanon, including those held at the Parliament Building (1936 - 1942) and Salon du Printemps and Salon d'Automne, UNESCO building|
Awards and Honors
|1930 ||First Prize, Exposition Coloniale, Paris|
Lebanese National Order of the Cedar
Lebanese modernism, Impressionism, landscape, still life, nudes, L'Académie Libanaise des Beaux-Arts.
"César Gemayel." Accessed November 20, 2013, http://cesargemayel.com.
César Gemayel: Le pinceau ardent (Beirut: Conseil Relations Economique Exterieures, 1985).
Lebanon: The Artist's View, 200 Years of Lebanese Painting. (London: Quartet, 1989), 119.
Fani, Michel. "Gemayel, Cesar," Dictionnaire de la Peinture au Liban (Paris: Editions de L'Escalier), 118-121.
Scheid, Kirsten. "Necessary Nudes: Hadatha and Mu'asira in the Lives of Modern Lebanese," International Journal of Middle East Studies 42 (2010): 203-230.