In 1948 the young Lebanese artist Saloua Raouda Choucair visited Paris for the first time. She stayed for three years, studying at the École des Beaux-Arts and frequenting various ateliers, including that of the ‘master’ Fernand Léger, and the lesser known Atelier d’Art Abstrait. Inspired by her earlier studies of Islamic art and design, Choucair became a pioneer of abstract art in the Arab world and there is no doubt that her time in Paris was pivotal to her development

Saloua Raouda Choucair Paris-Beirut 1948 © Saloua Raouda Choucair Foundation

Saloua Raouda Choucair
Paris-Beirut 1948
© Saloua Raouda Choucair Foundation

Paris-Beirut 1948 is a small gouache study that eloquently combines Choucair’s influences and interests and points to the path she was to take as a mature artist.

Flat areas of beautiful, matt colour and semi-abstract segmented shapes represent the landmarks of the two cities: the Eiffel tower’s distinctive legs span the picture diagonally; the Sannine mountain and rooftops of Beirut trail down to the sea and meet the Al Manara lighthouse with its distinctive black and white stripes. A lilac blue obelisk points vertically to a bright yellow Islamic star and an arch at the top right of the picture could equally represent the Arc de Triomphe; the arched doorway of a mosque or temple; or the naturally formed arch of the ‘Pigeon Rocks’ that stand in the water off the Beirut corniche. 

Ann Coxon is Assistant Curator of Displays at Tate Modern. The exhibition Saloua Raouda Choucair opens at Tate Modern on 17 April until 20 October 2013.