DAYS by the artist
Beirut drawings form a set of sketches and compositions in pen and
ink produced during intermittent visits and subsequent two
years of studies at the Academy of Fine Art. They embrace
three years from 1944 to 1947 and have been kept in portfolios
ever since. They record the life of the city and its vicinity
as it appeared in the early years of Lebanon's independence,
at the end of the French Protectorate between the two World
Wars. These years have left a strong imprint; but the city
possessed its own unique tradition and has, as it was in these
years before the long civil strife, remained in my memory
as the cultural capital of the Levant with an admirable tradition
of religious and national tolerance, two independent universities
and a number of colleges attracting students from all parts
of the world. It was at the same time a city with traditions
dating back to remote antiquity, where various communities
of Christians, Moslems, Druzes and other creeds lived in mutual
respect and relative harmony. There were vast social and political
differences and potential conflicts, yet to an outsider the
life of the city was fascinating in its variety, peace and
I went to Beirut in 1944 on leave
from the army in Egypt to visit my wife who was studying medicine
at the American University. I was 25, a soldier of the Polish
forces in the Middle East under British command. Before the
war I had spent two years studying art at the Cracow Academy
of Fine Art and had enjoyed a brief stay in Paris where I
met other artists of that epoch on the eve of World War II.
Early in the war I had been imprisoned in Russia and after
an amnesty worked as a free-lance painter: called into the
Polish army I was shipped from Russia across the Caspian Sea
to Iran. After a year in Teheran I stayed in Baghdad, Jerusalem,
Cairo and Alexandria, and towards the end of the war went
to Beirut a number of times. When the war ended I was granted
study leave to complete my art training at the Academie Libanaise
des Beaux-Arts. Thus at 25, I had some experience as a painter
and my arrival in Beirut in November 1944 marked the beginning
of two happy years with my wife in a civilized atmosphere
allowing for work, study and unreserved commitment to art.
Apart from studio work at the Academy I was free to...roam
the town with my sketch book and to record scenes and events
of the community's life in cafes, markets and bazaars, as
well as the more distressing sights of the city in the poor
quarters where beggars, cripples, drug pushers and houses
of prostitution provided rich material for drawing and painting.
My companions were Jozef Galuba, a Polish painter who later
lived in London, and a Lebanese painter Farrid Awad who died
in Paris a few years ago. Apart from the drawings and watercolours
I worked also in oils and produced prints. Most of the oil
paintings were acquired by Lebanese and Polish collectors
but the drawings remained in their portfolios.
The inhabitants of Beirut, whatever
their creed and background, were helpful and friendly; a stranger
could go there and be treated with hospitality. Women were
modest in dress and conduct. When the idea of a nude model
was introduced for the life class at the Academy, in place
of the traditional plaster casts of antique statuary, the
event was regarded in town as a major sensation, and the students
were charged with the difficult task of finding a suitable
model. Eventually Mademoiselle Marie agreed to pose and, I
am told continued to be the life model for the next two decades.
There were many Christian missions,
with monks, nuns and protestant preachers; Islamic scholars
and Indians. From the slim minarets muezzins called the faithful
to prayer. Many distinguished Europeans had stayed in Beirut
during the previous century. It was here that Renan wrote
The Life of Jesus and the Polish Romantic poet Slowacki
wrote his poem Anhelli while staying in a convent
at El Chazir.
Beirut was much more than the
capital of Lebanon; its academic communities drew scholars
from both the French and the English speaking centres of learning.
There were excellent concerts of the 'Quatuor de Beyrout,
conducted by Alexis Boutros, the Director of the Academy.
Stage performances of drama and opera in French and Italian
were accessible to all, in addition to art exhibitions, religious
festivals and hospitable receptions at various embassies.
There was a large Polish community dating from pre-war days
and the Polish Envoy, Zawadowski, was a personal friend of
the President Beshara Khoury who often moved in Polish circles.
The best hotels in those days were the 'St. Georges' and the
'Normandie', the best restaurant was the 'Lucullus' (''chez
Gaidon tout est bon!''). Huge Rolls-Royces brought Emirs and
Sheiks with their families to the 'Normandie', driven by chauffeurs
armed with Damascene sabres. The Secretary of the Polish Embassy
Count Michal Tyszkiewicz, actively helped young artists by
sponsoring exhibitions and bursaries. His wife, the celebrated
singer and actress Hanka Ordonowna often invited artists and
writers to their apartment, and I was fortunate enough to
paint a number of portraits of her in theatrical costumes.
There was a large Russian emigre community and a regiment
of Cossacks maintained by Prince Nagichevansky. The little
restaurant 'Chez Alyosha' was run by a talented Russian who
sang Vertynsky's ballads to the strains of a balalaika. British,
French and Polish soldiers presented a variety of outlandish
uniforms, ranging from Scottish tartans and kilts, to the
red trousers of the Zouaves and the smart Polish armoured
corp tunics. The cafes, cabarets and restaurants provided
good jazz, Italian music and Spanish dancers. Life in Beirut
appeared to me full of hope and promise of a better world
to come after the grim years of war. Towards the end of my
stay, our son Andrew was born in Beirut and was christened
in the Maronite Cathedral. In autumn 1947, having completed
my studies at the Academy under Cesar Gemayel, I held with
two other artists an exhibition of paintings at the American
University. I was recalled to the army in Egypt in order to
be shipped to Britain where I have lived and worked ever since.
Beirut of the nineteen-forties does not exist any more.
Subsequent modernisation and civil war have destroyed much
of its former splendour. The drawings represent a closed chapter
of my youth but have remained an integral part of my life's
I am happy to entrust the whole
collection to my friend Dr Bushra Fakhoury, the present owner
of the drawings, with whom I have shared interest in Lebanese
culture and tradition.
It is to Beirut, in those distant
days a city of peace, good will and tolerance that this collection