Almost 84 years after his death, the works of Khalil Saleeby, doyenne of modern Lebanese art, has finally been made accessible to the public. His collection titled Khalil Saleeby, 1870-1928, is being housed at the American University of Beirut’s (AUB) Art Gallery until November.
Saleeby, who played a major role in the development of modern art in his native country, was known for his interest in the human form and exhibited his paintings in Edinburgh, Spain and the United States. However, due to the lack of art museums in Lebanon, Saleeby’s paintings remained largely unseen. After his assassination in 1928, the artist’s works were inherited by Dr. Samir Saleeby, a distant relative, who donated them to AUB last year.
Octavian Esanu, curator of the show at AUB says: ‘Khalil Saleeby belongs to that first generation of painters who most substantially contributed to the emergence of art as a new occupation in Lebanon. His life and work marks a crucial phase in the late 19th and early 20th century development of art in this country.’
The collection of works, which haven’t been exhibited previously features more than 30 canvases by Saleeby, along with a selection of paintings by Lebanese artists from the 20th century such as Cesar Gemayel and Omar Onsi.
Saleeby’s exhibition is one of many initiatives planned by AUB Art Gallery in an effort to preserve the cultural heritage of Lebanon. Peter Dorman, president of AUB explains that the university is committed to promoting the works of Saleeby. ‘His work forms an important part of Lebanon’s history and AUB invested heavily in preserving it for the benefit of future generations. The exhibition is part of a long term plan to create a home for modern and contemporary art on the campus of AUB. We are extremely grateful to Dr. Samir Saleeby for his visionary gift.’
To house the collection in a permanent space, AUB is working on building a major new museum of art on the campus. Due for completion by 2020 and set to become Lebanon’s first modern art museum, it will be named the Rose and Shaheen Saleeby Museum, in honor of Dr. Saleeby’s parents.
‘I don’t think one could dream of a better location and supporter to promote Lebanese paintings than AUB, which is also placing great emphasis on developing fine art education in Lebanon,’ says George Com, grandson of Dauod Com, 19th century Lebanese painter.
*Khalil Saleeby, 1870-1928 is currently being exhibited at the American University of Beirut from 21 June until the end of November. Opening hours are from Tuesday-Saturday, 10am-4pm.
Photography: Courtesy of the American University of Beirut