Saloua Raouda Choucair: modernism off the map

In 1921, Fernand Léger painted Le Grand Déjeuner, in which three moon-faced naked women with tubular bodies, globular breasts and matching hairdos lounge about drinking tea in an opulent modern salon. Patterns play all around them; they look out at us blankly.

In 1948, one of Léger’s students at his Paris atelier, the Lebanese painter and sculptor Saloua Raouda Choucair, revisited this monumental painting with a number of small gouache variations. The differences are telling, not least because the women don’t seem bothered by our gaze. Instead, they look at art books, one of which has the title Les Peintres Célèbres (The Famous Painters), which also gives the title of these small studies. Where Léger’s bodies are polished and overblown, these are wonkier, offhand and much more human. Choucair’s little paintings depict women among women, oblivious to whoever stares at them.

Nearby in Choucair’s small, dense and often beautiful retrospective at

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