Born in 1917 in Lebanon, Rashid Wehbi was amongst the pioneer painters in Lebanese modern art. He was celebrated for his impressionistic portraits and colorful depictions of...
RASHID WEHBI, Lebanon (1917 - 1993)
Written by CHRISTINE LABBAN
Born in 1917 in Lebanon, Rashid Wehbi was amongst the pioneer painters in Lebanese modern art. He was celebrated for his impressionistic portraits and colorful depictions of nature. However, his artistic journey began with music; he learned to play the violin at barely the age of five. Even though music was not prevalent in his future works, he always felt nostalgic for it, manifested in his harmonious application of color, inspired by his childhood memory. To wholly devote himself to his creative pursuits and secure financial support, Wehbi sold his modest share of the family house [i]. After completing his secondary education at Al-Makassed College in Beirut, Wehbi trained under Habib Srour, a renowned Lebanese portrait painter, who became his mentor and helped him hone his skills. Wehbi’s talents flourished during their four-year tutelage, from 1932 to 1936.
As their friendship grew, Habib Serour gave Wehbi the task of distributing movie banners. As a result, Wehbi gained experience working in several Beirut-based bookstores, and later at a publishing house, designing movie posters. Becoming an enthusiast in drama and movie making,the artist enrolled at the High Institute for Dramatic Arts, Department of Theatrical Critique and Dramatic Arts, in Cairo, from 1946 to 1947.
Upon his return to Beirut in 1947, Wehbi began his teaching career across various institutions. He taught art at the Faculty of Fine Arts at the Lebanese University, Beirut Arab University, and the American University of Beirut.Moreover, Wehbi was instrumental in founding the Lebanese Artists Association in 1957. He made considerable contributions to the curriculum at the Lebanese University's Institute of Fine Arts. He was a key founder of the Association of Lebanese Artists (departments of painting and sculpture) established in 1957. Wehbi served as secretary from 1957 to 1962, and was later elected its president in 1962. Over the years, he received accolades, like the Decoration of Knowledge (first degree) in 1956, the National Prize for Painting in 1971, the Said Akl Prize in 1972, and the esteemed Cedar Medal of Rank of Commander in 1990.
In 1992, the street in Beirut, where Wehbi had spent most of his years living, was renamed in his honor.[ii]
Wehbi's impact on the cultural landscape of Beirut is undeniable, yet his art offered a unique lens on Lebanon's aesthetic heritage. His debut exhibitions, between the 1930s and the 1940s, garnered significant attention and acclaim within the Beirut art scene. Unlike the typical Lebanese landscape paintings and portraiture of the era, his ability to intertwine abstract and representational visual elements distinguished him as a pioneer of contemporary art. His works, characterized by their endurance and color shades, set him apart from his colleagues. He focused on pictorial durability through his choice of materials and techniques taken from Habib Serour's influence, along with another focus on the subtlety of coloring that resulted in a unique portrayal between Omar Onsi's impressionistic style and Mostafa Farroukh's documentary style.
Wehbi’s practice is deeply rooted in exploring the interplay between abstract and concrete representational visual elements, evident in his pursuit of Jeu D’abstraction. He ventured beyond the visible, capturing the emotional and philosophical, merging the realms of realism, impressionism, and abstraction. His canvases are alive with the dualities of life— both objectivity and subjectivity evolving as organic entities infused with poetic depth.
Wehbi’s renderings of the Lebanese countryside and the city of Beirut radiate with nationalist warmth[iii]. Paintings like Near the River, ND[iv] executed with oil on canvas, reflect the idyllic riverbanks of Lebanon's past. He also depicted places of personal significance, such as the rocky caves in the Ain El Mraisseharea, and Beirut's coastal Cornish, where he spent cherished moments with his father.
His art masterfully fused realism, impressionism, and abstraction, and he often assigned meaning and titles to his creations after completing them. The artist’s process gave room for interpretation. This can be seen in Young Lady, Andree, ND [v] an oil on canvas painting where a contemplative woman becomes a resting swan, connecting the viewer to its classical roots while grounded in academic, rational elements.[vi]
Beyond Lebanon's picturesque vistas, Wehbi painted nudes. His conservative Muslim sheik father disapproved, believing the human form should neither be exploited nor idolized. This belief, deeply rooted in religious views about depicting living things, meant many of Wehbi's nude works remained concealed until after his passing[vii]. For example, he painted nudes of both genders, including Beirut's first female model, Maryam, discovered by renowned Lebanese artist Cesar Gemayel. She posed for many other artists of his generation, such as Omar Onsi, Saliba Douaihy, and Huguette Caland. Maryam became central to many students’ understandings of the female body and form due to sitting for most of the first Lebanese graduated class fromAcademie Libanaise Des Beaux-Arts (ALBA) in Beirut.
Wehbi also painted several portraits throughout his career, like his oil on canvas Self Portrait. [viii],1990, part of the Ramzi and Saeda Dalloul Art Foundation collection, and portraits of notable figures such as Bechara El Khoury, Lebanon's first president[ix]. Wehbi offered a point of view to his models. In Self Portrait, he filled the background with soft yellows and greens, establishing light behind him. Meanwhile, his pose is slightly turned to the right and not forward-facing. His demeanor exhibits a physical distance from the viewer, and possible judgment and aloofness. Even without having any context to his portraits, one can still create a story around these characters, adding dimensions to their existence.
Wehbi's collaborations with established artists like Cesar Gemayel, Mostafa Farroukh, Omar Onsi, and Saliba Douaihy played a crucial role in a movement that reshaped the Lebanese art scene. In the post-World War II era, Wehbi introduced innovation to the Impressionist mold, blending realism, abstraction, and nuanced color relationships that added nuance to his chosen subjects.
As a luminary of contemporary fine art in Lebanon and the wider Arab world, Wehbi is a beacon among the last Lebanese Impressionists. His departure in 1993 marked the end of an era of Lebanese Impressionism, but his legacy remains vibrant. His diverse subjects continue to inspire, inviting viewers to see the world through his evocative lens. He once said, "I try to paint the atmosphere, the air, the wind, to capture all reverberations."[x]
Edited by WAFA ROZ
[iv]2023. Onefineart.com. 2023.
[v] 2023. Onefineart.com. 2023.
[vi] عمران القیسي. (2008-06-07). رشید وھبي آخر الانطباعیین اللبنانیین. Al Khaleej. from www.alkhaleej.ae
[vii] محمد ابي سمرا. (1993-06-21). بعد اطلاق اسمه على أحد شوارع بیروت . الفنان رشید وھبه لـپ"الوسط" : لو قیض لي أن ابدأ حیاتي من جديد .... الوسط. from the DAF Database.
[viii]“Self Portrait by RASHID WEHBI.” n.d. Dalloul Art Foundation. Accessed August 30, 2023.
عمران القيسي. (2017). مائة عام على ولادة فنان بيروت رشيد وهبي موسيقى الألوان الطبيعية..وذكاء نادر في التأليف. aliwaa.com.lb. from aliwaa.com.lb
عمران القیسي. (2008-06-07). رشید وھبي آخر الانطباعیین اللبنانیین. From Al Khaleej.
“Self Portrait by RASHID WEHBI.” n.d. Dalloul Art Foundation. Accessed August 30, 2023. https://dafbeirut.org/
One Fine Art | Artists - Poets Writers / Bechara El Khoury.” n.d. Www.onefineart.com. Accessed August 30, 2023. www.onefineart.com.
محمد ابي سمرا. (1993-06-21). بعد اطلاق اسمه على أحد شوارع بیروت . الفنان رشید وھبه لـپ"الوسط" : لو قیض لي أن ابدأ حیاتي من جديد الوسط. from DAF Database .
(1994-01-03). الموت يغیب الفنان المخضرم ورائد الانطباعیة : رشید وھبي "البیروتي" ... آخر المعلمین. الوسط. from daharchives.alhayat.com
“One Fine Art | Internal Page - Rachid Wehbi / Rachid Wehbe Joseph Matar.” n.d. Www.onefineart.com. Accessed August 30, 2023. www.onefineart.com
“One Fine Art | Internal Page - Rachid Wehbi / Article Painter of Human and Nature.” n.d. Www.onefineart.com. Accessed August 30, 2023. www.onefineart.com
Selected Solo Exhibitions
Selected Group Exhibitions
Art in Labor Skill / Deskilling / Reskillingالمهارة ً نقضا وإعادة تشكيل, American University of Beirut Byblos Bank Art Gallery, Beirut, Lebanon
Face Value: Portraiture, Saleh Barakat Gallery, Beirut, Lebanon
THE NUDE, BETWEEN DIVINITY, SEXUALITY, AND CONFLICT (Online Exhibition), Ramzi and Saeda Dalloul Art Foundation, Beirut, Lebanon
LEBANESE GRAND ARTISTS, Jamil Molaeb Museum, Baisour, Lebanon
Decoration of Knowledge, First Degree, Lebanon
National Prize of Painting, Lebanon
Said Akl Prize, Lebanon
The Ramzi & Saeda Dalloul Art Foundation, Beirut, Lebanon
Collection of the Presidency of the Republic, Baabda, Lebanon
Jamil Molaeb Museum, Baisour, Lebanon
Saleh Barakat Collection, Beirut, Lebanon
One Fine Art | internal page - Rachid Wehbi / Article Painter of Human and nature
One Fine Art, English
Art, palettes form, retrospective, themes, Baptism in Jordan, dimensions, life, flowers, triptychs
lebanonart.com, English, 2019
ذكرى: الفنان الرائد رشيد وهبي ان حكى
arabweek.com.lb, Arabic, 2014
رشید وھبي آخر الانطباعیین اللبنانیین
alkhaleej.ae, Arabic, 2008
رشيد وهبي لصليبا الدويهي : لم يعد أمامنا غير الألوان
alrumi.com, Arabic, 2017
مائة عام على ولادة فنان بيروت رشيد وهبي موسيقى الألوان الطبيعية..وذكاء نادر في التأليف
جریدة اللواء, Arabic, 2017
الموت يغیب الفنان المخضرم ورائد الانطباعیة : رشید وھبي
alhayat.com, Arabic, 1994
بعد اطلاق اسمه على أحد شوارع بیروت . الفنان رشید وھبه لپ"الوسط" : لو قیض لي أن ابدأ حیاتي من جديد
alhayat.com, Arabic, 1993
RASHID WEHBI Artwork
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