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 Gibran Kahlil Gibran  (1883 - 1931)

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Lived/Active: Massachusetts/New York / Lebanon      Known for: figure-nude-symbolist painting

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Kahlil Gibran
from Auction House Records.
Rape by a Centaur
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following information was provided by Jean English Gibran, biographer of this artist:

A Lebanese-American artist and poet, known for his philosophical aphorisms, Gibran Kahlil Gibran was the author of "The Madman" and "The Prophet."  He illustrated his best-selling books and is associated with the American School of Symbolism.

He immigrated to Boston in 1894 and was a precocious figure in the Brahmin world of arts and letters.

He showed his work in Boston & New York during his lifetime.

Telfair Academy Savannah Georgia has major holdings; as well as his eponymous museum in Besharre, Lebanon.

Biography from Pierce Galleries, Inc.:
Gibran Khalil Gibran (Lebanese-American, 1883-1931):

A poet and painter, he was born January 6, 1883 in Besharri, Lebanon, the son of Khalil Gibran (a gambler and olive grove owner) and Kamila Rahme (a peddler). The boy was named by prefacing his father’s name Khalil with the surname of his paternal grandfather, thus Gibran Khalil Gibran.

Growing up poor, in later life Gibran would fabricate romantic stories about his family origins.  Patricia Jobe Pierce wrote for the American National Biography (Oxford University Press, 1999, p. 929), “The intermingling of cultures (Syrian, Turkish, Persian, European), religions (Islam, Maronite Christianity, Catholicism), and languages (Semitic, Arabic, Syrian), as well as destitution, filled nineteenth-century Besharri and Gibran’s psyche.

At the age of five, Gibran escaped his family for the fields to dream, meditate and draw. The olive groves became like a holy sanctuary in which he could express and nurture his artistic gifts.  Although Gibran had no formal schooling in Besharri, a poet-teacher-painter-doctor named Selim Dahir taught him the rudiments of Arabic language and writing; introduced him to art, history and literature and inspired him to be a learned, sensitive artistic spirit whose passion was artistic creativity.  The young Gibran identified experience as religious in nature.

His biographers Jean and Kahlil Gibran of Boston wrote in Kahlil Gibran, His Life and Work, (p. 19), “His early experiences, steeped…in the metaphor of the Gospels, served as the link in his poetry between East and West.

In June of 1895, Kamila left Besharri with her children after Khalil humiliated the family by being found guilty of embezzlement to move in with cousins in Boston’s multi-cultural, impoverished South End, where Kamila opened a dry goods shop. When a teacher at the Quincy School misspelled Khalil as Kahlil, the young artist kept the new version of it.

Gibran’s overwhelming talent, good looks, romantic disposition and poetic nature fascinated Boston society and artists alike.  In 1886, Gibran drew a MacMonnies Baccanale nymph bronze, a work that Bostonians found overly offensive, but which fellow artists appreciated.  It drew the attention of Jessie Fremont Beale, who convinced photographer Fred Holland Day to allow the boy to pose and earn a salary doing so.  Some of Day’s photographs of the striking Gibran are on exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts (January-February 2001).

Fred Holland Day introduced the charming Gibran to society elite as the poet-painter, and he was accepted by the city’s artistic and intellectual community (Charlotte Teller, women’s rights advocate; Josephine Peabody, who called Gibran “The Prophet,” a title he later used for his bestselling book; teacher Florence Pierce; artist Lilla Cabot Perry; and his patron, schoolteacher Mary Haskell, who rejected Gibran’s marriage proposal).

Copeland and Day published in "The Critic" Gibran’s poetry in 1898 and he attended Beirut’s Madrasat-al-Hikman college, founded a magazine al-Manarah (The Beacon) with Joseph Hawaiik, won an award for poetry and returned to Boston.  His first solo exhibition of drawings was at Wellesley College (May 1902).  The loss of his mother that year and the Harcourt Studio fire of 1904 that destroyed his work devastated Gibran.  Writing of utopias, life and love, Gibran viewed death as a liberator that frees humankind from suffering and pain.

Mary Haskell paid for some of Gibran’s poetry to be published and in 1908, she sponsored a three-year trip to Paris so that he could study art at the Académie Julian (where he completed "The Ages of Women" and a portrait of Auguste Rodin, 1910). When he returned to Boston he said “everything seemed dead.”

Going to New York City, Gibran publicly spoke of injustices in the Middle East, painted with Albert Pinkham Ryder and in 1912 published "The Broken Wings".  In 1914 after "The Madman" was released a New York reviewer for the Call named him “the greatest poet of Arabia.”

In 1919, A. Knopf published "Twenty Drawings of the Human Form", and although he published many poet novellas, the greatest of his writing is the 1923 "The Prophet" with distinctive views of love and marriage.  The poet’s last work "The Wanderer" (1932) spoke of a male (perhaps Gibran himself) as, “…a man but with a cloak and a staff with a veil of paint upon his face.”  Gibran died of a heart attack in New York City a celebrated man of arts and letters.

Gibran’s paintings of ethereal nude bodies floating through space, of haunting heads, and intertwined heterosexual couples, embracing or mothers holding infants, are tender reminders of the fragility of life and of the haunting longevity of death.

Bibliography: Jean and Kahlil Gibran, Kahlil Gibran, His Life & Work (1974, definitive text); New York Herald Tribune, art critique, Dec. 20, 1914; art critique, New York Evening Sun, Dec. 28, 1909; Nation, Apr. 10, 1920 (regarding his drawings); Rollene W. Saal, “Speaking of Books: The Prophet,” New York Times Book Review, May 16, 1965; (obituary) Boston Evening Transcript and the Boston Post, both April 14, 1931.

Submitted by historian-biographer, Patricia Jobe Pierce

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