Dalloul Art Foundation

Dalloul Art Foundation


GEORGES HANNA SABBAGH, Egypt (1887 - 1951)



Written by Layla Yakoub
Translated to English by Nathalie Bsat

Georges Hanna Sabbagh was born in Alexandria, Egypt, in 1887. After completing his schooling at the Collège Jésuite de la Sainte Famille in Cairo, he was sent by his father to Paris to study law at age 19. Sabbagh eventually withdrew from law school to study art. He began frequenting Lévy-Dhurmer’s studio in 1910 and later enrolled at the Académie Ranson. By 1930 he became a French citizen and was awarded the Legion of Honor for his work. 

Growing up in a wealthy Catholic family of Syro-Lebanese descent, Sabbagh was exposed to French culture early on and had no trouble entering the world of Parisian ateliers. At the Académie Ranson, he studied under painters of the Nabi movement, such as Paul Sérusier and Maurice Denis. Les Nabis, who took their name from the Arabic word for “prophet,” were an influential group of French artists who sought to radically redefine art, insisting that painting should involve a synthesis of symbols and metaphors instead of merely depicting nature in the straightforward manner of the Impressionists. In this way, they played a crucial role in the development of symbolism, abstraction, and other hallmarks of early modernism in French art. During his training in Paris, he also met and grew close to Agnès Humbert, a watercolor painter, art historian, and later a member of the French Resistance during World War II. The two were married from 1916 to 1934. 

Maurice Denis had a particular impact on Sabbagh’s flair for symbolism and intimism. Sabbagh made regular visits to the Nabi artist’s home in Perros-Guirec, Brittany, and became inspired by the northwestern region’s rocky landscapes and gloomy skies. This topography differed significantly from what he had known in Egypt and Paris, and he incorporated his new experiences of nature into his work in the form of rough brushstrokes and a somber pallet. Sabbagh also took on avant-gardist trends and became inspired by Cubism. His famous Synthèse de Ploumanac’h (1920) indicates how he absorbed elements of multiple contemporaneous artistic movements without restraining himself to a predefined aesthetic. His Nabi training is discernible in this painting, which marks Sabbagh’s foray into painting nude, bathing women; for example, it nods to Paul Cézanne, a significant figure of influence to Les Nabis. It also displays an investment in realism, however, as well as interest in Cubist abstraction and dismantling figures.

As part of a more playful homage to Cézanne, Sabbagh painted his version of The Card Players in 1918. He placed himself at a table with Cézanne and Van Gogh and made his hand visible to communicate confidence and power to the viewer, even amongst established masters of his medium.

Sabbagh also drew inspiration from contemporaries like Felix Vallotton, whose refined and unembellished nude portraits inspired him when the two worked together in 1916. Sabbagh’s portraits are almost as imposing as his rocks, evoking both power and softness. Friendships with artists such as Amedeo Modigliani, Jules-Emile Zingg, and Yves Alix nourished Sabbagh’s intellect and developed his deeply personal painting style. In 1917 he held his first solo exhibition at the Galerie Chéron in Paris, which marked the beginning of the artist’s institutional career. His family portraits were particularly hailed, and his works soon filled numerous salons and galleries. In 1933, Sabbagh was appointed the president of the painting section of the Salon d’Automne in Paris. 

Described by critics as the “Egyptian branch” of the École de Paris, Sabbagh remained known by the French as an Egyptian despite his Syro-Lebanese heritage and French training. After his mother passed in 1920, he returned to Egypt for the first time since moving to France. This visit led to two years of rediscovery in which he drew inspiration from the landscapes of his homeland. Sabbagh regularly visited Egypt after returning to Paris, and in 1929 began working out of his own Cairo studio.

At the height of his success in France in the 1930s, Sabbagh settled in Cairo, where he painted typical Egyptian scenes and landscapes while avoiding Orientalist tendencies. Indeed, in contrast to the romanticizing impulses of Orientalism, Sabbagh became known for the quality, realism, and raw authenticity of his portraits. In 1939 he began teaching at the School of Fine Art in Cairo and did not move back to France until the end of World War II. These years allowed Sabbagh to find himself and develop a unique style after having absorbed the influences of various movements, including Cubism, Fauvism, and Expressionism. 

Like many artists of his generation, Sabbagh faded from public view after the war. He passed suddenly in 1951 while putting together a retrospective exhibition. His children and grandchildren took charge of honoring his memory soon after by organizing several retrospectives as well as a monograph dedicated to the late artist. 


Bréon, Emmanuel, Michèle Lefrançois, Bernard Dorival, et Jean Sabbagh. Georges Sabbagh : Alexandrie 1887 - Paris 1951. Boulogne-Billancourt : Musée Municipal De Boulogne-Billancourt, 1990.

Eşanu, Octavian. Art, Awakening, and Modernity in the Middle East: The Arab Nude. New York, NY: Routledge, Taylor Et Francis Group, 2018.

Sabbagh, Jean, Monique Sabbagh, Mathilde Sabbagh, et Marc Sabbagh, eds. Georges Sabbagh. Paris : Editions Du Panama, 2006.

Bardaouil, Sam. "Ni Ici Ni Là-bas ; Mahmoud Mokhtar et Georges Sabbagh." Artreoriented.com. Printemps 2013. Accessed May 7, 2018. http://www.artreoriented.com/content/3-publications/qantara-ni-ici-ni-la-bas-mahmoud-moukhtar-and-georges-sabbagh.pdf.

Mongy, Yasser. "Georges Sabbagh and the Development of the Independent Personality in Egyptian Art." Academia.edu. Accessed May 07, 2018. http://www.academia.edu/25742710/Georges_Sabbagh_and_the_development_of_the_independent_personality_in_Egyptian_Art.

Radwan, Nadia. "Georges Sabbagh." Encyclopedia.mathaf.org. Accessed May 7, 2018. http://www.encyclopedia.mathaf.org.qa/en/bios/Pages/Georges-Sabbagh.aspx.



Selected Solo Exhibitions


Hommage à Georges Sabbagh, Société nationale des beaux-arts, Paris, France


Georges Sabbagh : Alexandrie, 1887-Paris, 1951, Municipal Museum of Boulogne-Billancourt, France 


Georges Sabbagh et ses amis peintres de la Bretagne, Perros-Guirec, Exposition monographique, Crozant, France 


Hommage à Sabbagh,Salon d’automne,Grand Palais, Paris, France 


Hommage à Sabbagh,mairie du 6earrondissement, Paris, France 


Monographic exhibition, Centre culturel égyptien, Paris, France 


Monographic exhibition, galerie Allard, Paris, France 


Retrospective exhibition, Salon d’Automne, Grand Palais, Paris, France


Galerie Motte, Genève, Switzerland
Lausanne, Switzerland
Paris, France 


Exhibited in Paris, France 


Exhibited in Paris, France


Exhibited in Cairo, Egypt


Exhibited in Paris , France 


Exhibited in Paris, France 


Exhibited in Paris, France 


Exhibited in Paris, France


Galerie Ramia, Alexandrie, Egypt 


Galerie Charpentier, Paris, France


Galerie Druet, Paris, France 
Galerie Berthe Weill, Paris, France 
Tuileries, Paris , France


Galerie Chéron, Paris, France

Selected Group Exhibitions


Le Théorème de Nefertiti, Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris, France
Tea with Nefertiti: The Making of the Artwork, the Museum and the Public, Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha – Qatar 


Le Corps découvert, Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris, France


Regards de peintres autour de Ploumanac’h, musée de Saint-Brieuc (mai-juin) ; Perros-Guirec, maison de Traouïero (juillet-septembre)


Group Exhibition, museum, Saint-Denis – France 


Salon d’automne, Paris- France 


Salon d’automne, Paris- France


Salon des Indépendants, Paris, France


Salon des Indépendants, Paris, France
Salon d'Automne, Paris, France 


Salon des Indépendants, Paris, France
Salon d'Automne, Paris, France

Awards and Honors


General Commissioner of the French exhibition which brings together, in Algiers, the works of the museums of Cairo, Alexandria, Beirut and Jerusalem. 


Organized a contemporary French painting exhibition in Alexandria.


Named President of the painting section of the Salon d’Automne society.


Named Knight of the Legion of Honor in France.

Curatorial Projects


Organizes an exhibition in Egypt for contemporary French artists.


Missioned by the Egyptian State to organize an exhibition of treasures of French art owned by Egypt.


Crozant Crozant City Hall, France
André-Malraux Modern Art Museum, Le Havre, France
Paris Modern Art Museum, Paris, France
Contemporary History Museum, Hotel National des Invalides, Paris, France
La Princerie Museum, Verdun, France
Painting and Sculpture Museum of Grenoble, Grenoble, France
Tourcoing Museum, Tourcoing, France
Departmental Museum of L’Oise, Beauvais, France
Departmental Museum of Prieuré, France
Maurice-Denis Departmental Museum “Le Prieuré”, Saint-Germain-en-Laye, France
The 1930s Museum, Boulogne-Billancourt, France
National Modern Art Museum, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France
Rio de Janeiro Museum, Rio, Brazil
Mohammed Mahmoud Khalil Museum, Cairo, Egypt
National Modern Art Museum, Cairo, Egypt
Nederlands Letterkundig Museum, La Haye, Netherlands
Ramzi and Saeda Daloul Art Foundation, Beirut, Lebanon
Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art in Doha, Qatar