Dalloul Art Foundation

Dalloul Art Foundation


ELIE KANAAN, Lebanon (1926 - 2009)



Written by Zeid El Amine

Elie Kanaan was born in Beirut in 1926. He began as a self-taught artist in his adolescent years with the encouragement of French painter Georges Cyr, who wrote a positive review for La Revue Du Liban about Kanaan's first exhibition in 1950. In 1957, Kanaan co-founded the Lebanese Artists Association and was awarded the first prize in painting at the "Salon du Printemps", as well as the UNESCO prize in 1958, which secured him a scholarship to enroll at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris. Between 1963 and 1974, he taught drawing and painting in Lebanon at the Collège Notre-Dame de Jamhour, the Lebanese University, and the Académie Libanaise des Beaux-Arts (ALBA).

Paris left a profound impression on Kanaan. During his education there, the artist befriended painters Yves Alix and Jacques Villon, through whom he was introduced to art critics Waldemar Georges and Maximilien Gautier. He was inspired to capture scenes of everyday life in the city, as in En attendant le metro (1962), where he painted people awaiting the train as a pale crowd on a greyish blue background. Moved by the city’s famously nocturnal culture – and, perhaps, its oft-romanticized melancholy – Kanaan preferred to create at night, and his color palette, in turn, became dimmer. Parisian inspirations remained with him long after he returned to Lebanon. In a La Revue du Liban write-up of his 1972 solo exhibition at Beirut's Excelsior Hotel, the French writer Pierre Lautney was noted to have felt “transported to Paris” while admiring Kanaan's works, even though the content of the paintings was not related to the city. 

Following his return to Lebanon, Kanaan began to make use of Mediterranean colors in his work. He was taken by light and often used contrasting reds, blues, and yellows that are layered and masterfully balanced to create a sensation of motion or even tension between pigments. In Combat de Soleil (1985), for example, a saturated outburst of hues dominates the canvas, drawing the eye to a glowing yellow that leaps out amidst reds and blues. As suggested by the painting's title, which means the sun's combat, Kanaan depicts light's victory over darkness. In other canvases, however, it is the darkness that “wins”; Kanaan silences powerful reds with dark tones or shades of grey, almost extinguishing their fiery impact. Artist and critic Helen Khal compared his colors to Arabic poetry in their texture and sensual rhythm. Faysal Sultan, also an artist and art historian, saw in Kanaan's colors a language that bypasses the distinction between the colors of reality and his own interpretation of these colors, communicating the union of nature and imagination through the rhythmic, emotional treatment of light and shade. 

Kanaan's early style embarked from post-impressionist aesthetics, inspired by a group exhibition of French artists in 1948 at the École Supérieure des Lettres in Beirut. For a while, the artist’s work was impregnated with romanticism and communicated a loose, creative relationship with the formal principles of painting. This period, however, didn't last long; the artist soon restricted himself to the harsh discipline of drawing in order to develop a more disciplined relationship to the values of proportion and mimesis that are central to the academic painting. Eventually, however, Elie Kanaan broke free from his canonical French training and developed the abstract style for which he was ultimately best known. Widely considered a colorist first and foremost, the artist disengaged, in most of his works, from the guidance of the line; his landscapes, for example, became vast color fields, constructed only by the scintillating play of hues. However, his abstractions were not totally liberated from figuration. Practicing a reconciliation between abstraction and reality, Kanaan often introduced real-life elements in his canvas: figurative silhouettes emerged from larger compositions of buzzing, formless, non-representational color. In La Prière (2008), for example, he gesturally depicts a woman kneeling against an abstract background, blending tints of blue, indigo and green to make her appear floating. In some works, like Duo (1985), a white patch activates the surfaces of several colors.

One of the central figures in the history of abstract Lebanese painting, Elie Kanaan remained consistent in his artistic style from the 1960s until his death in 2009. Satisfied with what his brushstrokes had achieved, he remained loyal to them and continued to make use of explosively energetic colors until the end of his career. He worked between studios in Beirut and Paris, but ultimately finished his final artwork, Le Paradis (2009), in Lebanon; he signed it only hours before passing away in his Beirut home. 


Abillama, Nour.S & Tomb, Marie. Art From Lebanon: Modern and Contemporary Artists 1880-1975. Lebanon: Wonderful Editions, 2012.

Resonances 82 Lebanese Artists. Beirut: Fine Arts Publishing, 2011.

Elie Kanaan La Lumière Colorée. Beirut: Fondation Audi, 2011.

سلطان، فيصل. كتابات مستعادة من ذاكرة فنون بيروت. بيروت، لبنان: دار الفارابي، 2013

"Elie Kanaan." Elie Kanaan. Accessed May 16, 2019. http://www.eliekanaan.com/

سلطان، مهى. "ايلي كنعان في معرض جديد في بيروت. يكسر رتابة اعماله السابقة من خلال التجريد." الحياة. 19January 2000. http://www.alhayat.com/article/1020918/يلي-كنعان-في-معرض-جديد-في-بيروت-يكسر-رتابة-أعماله-السابقة-من-خلال-التجريد-nbsp  



Selected Solo Exhibitions


La Lumière Colorée, Villa Audi, Beirut, Lebanon


Claude Lemand Gallery, Paris, France
Epreuve d’Artiste Gallery, Kaslik, Lebanon


Epreuve d’Artiste Gallery, Kaslik, Lebanon


Chahine Gallery, Beirut, Lebanon


 Chahine Gallery, Beirut, Lebanon


Epreuve d’Artiste Gallery, Kaslik, Lebanon
Claire M. Maurin Gallery, Aix-en-Provence, France
Etienne de Causans Gallery, 25 rue de Seine, Paris, France


Fransabank SAL, Beirut, Lebanon
Pierre-Michel D Gallery, Beirut, Lebanon


Epreuve d’Artiste Gallery, Kaslik, Lebanon
Art et Tableau Gallery, St Germain-en-Laye, France
Annabel’s Gallery, Barbizon, France


Epreuve d’Artiste Gallery, Kaslik, Lebanon
Janine Rubeiz Gallery, Beirut, Lebanon 
Galerie de l’Orangerie, St Paul de Vence, France
Anne Mouilleron Gallery, Strasbourg, France


Marguerite Motte Gallery, Geneva


Center of Art, 53 Avenue Montaigne, Paris, France
Epreuve d’Artiste Gallery, Kaslik, Lebanon


Brigitte Shéhadé Gallery, Paris, France


Epreuve d’Artiste Gallery, Kaslik, Lebanon


Galerie d’Art Bekhazi, Beirut, Lebanon


Epreuve d’Artiste Gallery, Kaslik, Lebanon


Galerie d’Art Bekhazi, Beirut, Lebanon


Galerie d’Art Bekhazi, Beirut, Lebanon


Galerie d’Art Bekhazi, Beirut, Lebanon


Damo Gallery, Antelias, Lebanon


Obegi Better Home Ltd Gallery, Lebanon


Vendome Gallery, Beirut, Lebanon


Excelsior Hotel, Beirut, Lebanon


Vendome Gallery, Beirut, Lebanon


Dar el Fan, Tunisia


Grenier des Peintres, Paris, France


Orient Gallery, Lebanon


Bristol Gallery, Lebanon


Fritz Gothelf


École Supérieure des Lettres, Beirut, Lebanon


École Supérieure des Lettres, Beirut, Lebanon


École Supérieure des Lettres, Beirut, Lebanon


École Supérieure des Lettres, Beirut, Lebanon


Audi Gallery, Beirut, Lebanon

Selected Group Exhibitions


Tajreed,CAP Kuwait, Kuwait


Dubai International Financial Center, Dubai, UAE


Salon International d’art Contemporains, Beirut Hall, Lebanon


Salon d’Automne, Paris, France


Art International de Genève, Geneva, Switzerland


Salon d’Automne, Paris, France


Salon d’Automne, Paris, France


Musée de Beirut, Lebanon
La Baracaccia, Rome, Italy



Prix du Président de la République, Lebanon
Lauréat du Grand Concours de la T.M.A. accordé par un jury international


Prix Vendôme accordé par un jury international, Beirut, Lebanon


Unesco Prize, Lebanon


Lauréat du Salon d’Automne du Musée Sursock, Beirut, Lebanon


Unesco Prize, Lebanon
Premier Prix du Président de la République, S.E.M. Camille Chamoun, Lebanon


Prix Dame Alighieri   
Salon du Printemps


Lauréat du Salon d’Automne du Ministère de l’Éducation Nationale. (Prix de la Présidence Mme Zalfa Chamoun), Lebanon


Ramzi & Saeda Dalloul Art Foundation, Beirut, Lebanon
Sursock Museum, Beirut, Lebanon
Lebanese Embassy of France, Beirut, Lebanon
Musee de la Residence St Sulpice, Switzerland
Mairie de Doha, UAE
Moscow Gallery, Moscow, Russia
Crawford Institute, New York, US
Belgrade Museum, Serbia
Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris, France
Barjeel Art Foundation, Sharjah, UAE



"Art contemporain Comment investir en beauté"
Laure de Hauteville
Le Commerce du Levant, French, 2000

Magazine p 2,4

At Auction Tableaux, Dessins, Sculptures. Peintres modernes et contemporains du Liban et du Moyent Orient
At Auction, French, 2018

Auction Catalog p. 13,29.49

Art From Lebanon. Modern and Contemporary Artists 1880-1975
Nour Salame Abillama & Marie Tomb
Wonderful Editions, English, Arabic, 2012

Book pp. 172-177

Cent Ans d'Art Plastique Au Liban I. One Hundred Years of Plastic Arts in Lebanon I
Chahine Gallery
Chahine Gallery, English, Arabic, French, 1982

Book p. 11,21

Regards sur la peinture au Liban
Joseph Abou Rizk
ALBA, French, 2012

Book pp. 57-59

Resonances. 82 Lebanese artists reviewed by Helen Khal
Cesar Nammour & Gabriela Schaub
Fine Arts Publishing, English, 2011

Book pp. 174-177



"وردة نعى الفنان التشكيلي ايلي كنعان: برحيله يفقد لبنان فنانا تفرد في الوانه وتأليفه الفني"
lebanonfiles.com, Arabic, 2009
السقوط في نمطية الإيقاع الواحد و اشكالية المحترف الفني اللبناني
عمران القيس
aliwaa.com.lb, Arabic, 2017
وردة نعى الفنان التشكيلي ايلي كنعان: برحيله يفقد لبنان فنانا تفرد في الوانه وتأليفه الفني
lebanese-forces.com, Arabic, 2009
Propos de Georges Cyr sur l'exposition de Elie Kanaan
Georges Cyr
La Revue du Liban, French, 1950

Scanned from book Elie Kanaan La Lumiere Coloree, 2011 p.10,11

Georges Cyr 1951.pdf
Georges Cyr
French, 1951

Scanned from book Elie Kanaan La Lumiere Coloree, 2011 p.12

Peinture Libanaise, Elie Kanaan
Georges Cyr
La Revue du Liban, French, 1953

Scanned from book Elie Kanaan La Lumiere Coloree, 2011p.13

Salah Stetie 1955.pdf
Salah Stetie
Le Jour, French, 1955

Scanned from book Elie Kanaan La Lumiere Coloree, 2011 p.20,21

L'Orient 1967.pdf
L' Orient, French, 1967

Scanned from book Elie Kanaan La Lumiere Coloree, 2011 p.52

Elie Kanaan, un maitre de la peinture Libanaise
Camille Aboussouan
La Revue du Liban, French, 1972

Scanned from book Elie Kanaan La Lumiere Coloree, 2011 p.74, 75

ايلي كنعان ... مسيرة ثلاثين عاماً مع اللون و النور
فيصل سلطان
السفير, French, 1979

Scanned from book كتابات مستعادة من ذاكرة فنون بيروت , 2013 p.278, 279

إيلي كنعان : كلام اللون في الفصحة البيضاء
فيصل سلطان
السفير, Arabic, 1983

Scanned from book كتابات مستعادة من ذاكرة فنون بيروت , 2013 p. 170, 171

إيلي كنعان في معرض جديد في بيروت . يكسر رتابة أعماله السابقة من خلال التجريد
مهى سلطان
الحياة, Arabic, 2000
Élie Kanaan une résonance atemporelle
Laure de Hautevile
Le Commerce du Levant, French, 1999
معرض الفنان ايلي كنعان . المنظر ... الحكاية وفضاءات الرؤية التجريدية
مهى سلطان
الحياة, Arabic, 2006
rdl.com, French, 2011
"Les oeuvres d’Élie Kanaan à la villa Audi"
L' Orient Le Jour, French, 2011
EXPOS! Elie Kanaan- A la villa Audi
Sarah Chaoul
artsbeirut.wordpress.com, French, 2011
تحيّة من بيروت إلى شاعر اللون إيلي كنعان
aljarida.com, Arabic, 2011
"La lumière colorée" d’Élie Kanaan à la villa Audi
Zena Zalzal
L' Orient Le Jour, French, 2011
ايلي كنعان شاعر التجريد اللوني
مهى سلطان
sauress.com, Arabic, 2011