Born in Ghosta in Mount Lebanon, Corm and his family resettled soon afterwards in his mother's home village of Ghazir. His beginnings as an artist can be dated back to 1861, when two Italian Jesuit priests discovered Corm's drawings on some rocks. Mistaking the young boy's depictions of birds for three-dimensional reality, the priests were mesmerized by Corm's natural talent and offered him a position teaching drawing at the local Jesuit missionary school in exchange for Italian language lessons. After nearly a decade teaching in the school, sometime in the late 1860s Corm sold several paintings to the Maronite Church in Mount Lebanon to pay for a ticket to Rome to study at the Accademia di San Luca under artist Roberto Bompiani.
In 1878, Corm chose to settle in Beirut. Then part of the Ottoman Empire, the city had undergone radical transformations over the previous decade as it emerged as a commercial, political, and cultural hub in the region. In addition to a population surge following the 1860 civil war in Mount Lebanon, Beirut had grown substantially due to a number of infrastructural projects jointly sponsored by the Ottoman and European governments. In turn, throughout the nineteenth century, a host of families had migrated to Beirut from Aleppo, Damascus, Tripoli, Acre, Sidon and Mount Lebanon to join a growing community of Damascene merchant families. It was from this newly emerging upwardly mobile urban class of merchants, intellectuals, and politicians—known historically as members of al-nahda—that Corm would cultivate a patron base.
Working mainly in oil on canvas, along with pastel on paper, Corm depicted Beirut's elite in his signature style: a pared down, formal, three-quarter length portrait against a dark background with an attention to the individual's social and professional standing. In many ways, Corm's work drew on conventions for portraiture previously established both in oil painting and photography, a medium popular among elite at the time. Perhaps Corm's two most recognized portraits are those of Bustros al-Bustani (1894) and Pope Pius IX (early 1870s), which served as Corm's calling card.
Corm's patrons were not limited to Beirut and Mount Lebanon. Before establishing his atelier in Beirut, Corm spent a period of time in Belgium after being commissioned by Leopold II to paint portraits of the Royal Family of Belgium. In 1887, he traveled to Alexandria to capture with his brush the leading governors there as well as members of the nobility. In 1894, the Khedive Abbas II invited Corm again to Egypt to paint the ruler's portrait.
In addition to his portraits, Corm created a substantial body of religious works, the majority of which were commissioned by the Maronite Church and many of which remain in churches throughout Mount Lebanon. In fact, before Corm, oil painting was limited to clerics in the church, many of whom had been trained by Italian missionaries and clerics at the Maronite College of Rome, established in 1584 to strengthen ties between the Vatican and the region's Christian communities. These cleric-painters, as they have come to be known, include Musa Dib (d.1826), who studied at the Maronite College of Rome, and his nephew Kan'an Dib (d. 1873), who along with Corm trained with Constantin Giusti, an Italian painter who had come to Mount Lebanon with the Jesuit missionaries in 1831. Thus, although Corm's academic style may have been outdated in Europe, his historical significance lies in his ability to forge a local market for oil portraits, previously reserved for religious figures. Moreover, the presence of still life, landscapes, and genre scenes within his oeuvre suggests an on spec market for works on canvas and paper.
In 1912, Corm expanded his artistic enterprise and its public appeal when he opened Maison d'Art, an art supply store centrally located near Beirut's post office. The store's commercial success indicated a growing public interest not only in art viewing but also in art making.
Corm exhibited his work abroad in Egypt and Europe, most notably at the 1889 Versailles Exhibition in France and at the 1900 Paris Exhibition, where he received the Prize of Honor of Excellence. Additional recognition of his career includes receipt of the Lebanese Order of Merit and the Ottoman Medal of Glory. Corm died in 1930.
|1900||Paris Exhibition, France|
|1889||Versailles Exhibition, France|
Awards and Honors
|1900||Prize of Honor of Excellence, Paris Exhibition|
|_____||The Cavalier Medal of Saint Gregory|
|_____||The Ottoman Medal of Glory from the first degree|
|_____||The Lebanese Medal of Merit |
Modern Lebanese art, al-Nahda Portraiture, Christian religious painting, still life, Academic painting.
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- Melons, 1899
Oil on canvas, 60.1 x 73.2 cm
Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha
- Title unknown, 1917
Oil on canvas, 100.2 x 73.5 cm
Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha