Shafic Abboud



Shafic Abboud 1926–2004
Oil paint on hardboard
Support: 1460 x 1140 mm
Purchased with funds provided by the Middle East North Africa Acquisitions Committee 2014


Composition c.1957–8 is an abstract painting on hardboard. The support is characteristic of the artist, who regularly painted on similar panels. The composition is dynamic, conveying a sense of movement through its structure of abstracted, rectangular shapes, which were applied with a palette knife. The work exemplifies Abboud’s often relatively monochromatic tonal system, here using a range of blues and greys. The painting was created during the late 1950s when Abboud was based in Paris, the city in which he lived from 1947 to 1969. However, as in many of his artworks, Composition also evokes the landscape, light and colour of his native Lebanon, whose scenery and colours were an ongoing source of inspiration for him.

Having studied in Paris since 1947 and worked in the ateliers of Jean Metzinger, Othon Friesz, Fernand Léger and André Lhote, Abboud began by creating abstract compositions and figurative works using techniques that owe much to cubism. He went on to develop a distinctive style that continued to employ cubist elements, but with thick layers of paint that resulted in rough, densely worked surfaces. In Composition the lines and contours, and the almost sculptural structure of the painting, are suggestive of an aerial view of a rural landscape featuring fields. In his notebooks, the artist wrote: ‘It is very hard to explain, but I like pursuing the work up to the abstract picture without letting go of the real origin … It is possible, I have already done it’ (Shafic Abboud, ‘Notebook, 1996–2003’, unpublished, courtesy of the artist’s estate).

The different coloured shapes in this painting, although seemingly irregular, have their own internal order. Liberated from the rigidity of a grid structure, their forms tilt away from any centre, creating an effect of gentle motion. The palette of blues, greys, and lighter tones is typical of Abboud’s paintings from this period. Upon close inspection, the work is a force of painterly gestures. Thick paint, lines and colours play on the morphological possibilities of the primary material and create a formal language based on the perception of its detailed surface. The forms of Composition present a constant juxtaposition of brushstrokes and colour fields, an interacting system of richly coloured moments. Composition is an unusually large-scale work for Abboud and exemplifies his distinctive take on European informel painting of the 1950s, combining European, Arabic and traditional Byzantine influences.

Further reading
Shafic Abboud: Rétrospective: Peintures 1948–2003, exhibition catalogue, Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris 2011.
Pascale Le Thorel, Shafic Abboud, Milan 2015.

Vassilis Oikonomopoulos
July 2013

Display caption

Composition is characteristic of Abboud’s abstract work of the 1950s for which he used thick paint, here applied with a palette knife, to establish an intense sense of movement. Although made in Paris, the limited blues and greys seem to carry memories of the light and colour of the artist’s native Lebanon. There may even be suggestions of an aerial view of rural landscape. In his later notebooks, he wrote: ‘It is very hard to explain, but I like pursuing the work up to the abstract picture without letting go of the real origin’.

Gallery label, October 2016

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