Philippe Jabre’s orientalist collection finds a home
A new museum in Beit Chabab, on an estate that includes an old bell foundry, will house the collection.
Daher and Mainguy make a brilliant team. Daher is the curator of the Philippe Jabre collection and an Orientalist art expert specializing in Lebanese works. Mainguy is an interior designer well-known for his spectacular, romantic, sumptuous and generous decorations and will be in charge of designing the space and scenography of the museum "while keeping the buildings in their initial form,” he says.
The plan is to convert an old, 19th century building––the summer residence of the Jabre family in Beit Chabab––and an old bell foundry, acquired by the collector, into “un corps de musee” that would include 800 square meters of exhibition space.
McCullin pictures exposed in a dark room in Philippe Jabre’s residence.
For a one time exhibition of work by Don McCullin, known as “the Goya of war photography”, Mainguy chose to immerse the foundry in total darkness, turning it into a “dark room” to shed light on the British photographer’s works. The windows are blocked by black plasterboard, and the walls are painted with black coating that stands out in contrast to the stones and magnificent arcades of the 18th century building. In addition to the walls, the sand and coal floor was coated with polished raw concrete creating a fascinating ambience. Mainguy is lending all of his artistic magic to the exhibition of McCullin’s work.
The foundry also has a first floor above the ground floor offering more exhibition space, and scenography exhibition spaces will be built on the building’s outdoor terraces as well.
The storytellers of the collection
The Jabre house is located just a stone’s throw away from the old foundry. In the middle of a nature reserve with luxuriant vegetation and tall trees providing shade, it is the ideal venue for a museum dedicated to orientalist painters from the 18th and 19th centuries, who depicted a Lebanon that is now only preserved in their works.
Designed around the 1860s, the house was expanded about 20 years ago. The new building is a copy of the original structure, created and built in perfect symbiosis with the old one. The entrance is under a large, vaulted arch built––following the standards of art––by craftsmen from the Chouf, according to Mainguy. The entire space of about 500 square meters will be transformed into a museum. "The walls will certainly be remodeled. The visible stones will have to be coated in order to give them a beautiful, smooth surface that will be ready to take in and hold the artwork,” Mainguy says. Below the garden, he adds, there are rooms that can also be included, which will increase the size of the showrooms. He insists that "the house and the foundry are both the starting point for Philippe Jabre's Orientalist collection".
The two designers, Daher and Mainguy, relay the same message: "What matters to us is to be able to transmit the content with emotions."
David Hockney and Andy Warhol at Beirut Seaside Arena
A snapshot of the cedar forest taken in 1847 by Girault de Prangey that has been enlarged 2,000 times, without losing any of its details, covers the outer part of the stand. "This daguerreotype, auctioned by the National Library of France, has been acquired by Philippe Jabre," Daher says.
Inside, a film shot in the 1930s tells the story of Yamile under the cedars. It narrates the love story between a Bcharre Christian girl and a Muslim man from Tripoli and was controversial at the time.
The beginning of the journey starts with a piece from German painter Michael Zeno Diemer, depicting the arrival of a sailboat on the Lebanese coast with the snowy Mount Sannine in the background. The piece, from 1904, was once featured over a page and a half in the Drouot Gazette. A little further away, there are works focusing on Al-Mutanabbi street that give a nod to the Beirut of yesterday and today. The famous street is illustrated in two pieces made by Wilson (British) during his visit to the Lebanese capital during the 50s. The universe of the brothels is joined by 11 bronze figures, surprising in their great finesse and amusing, erotic facet. Considered to be extremely rare and unique, they were created in the 19th century by the Bergman House in Vienna. The house of ill-repute is completed by a vertical projection (on the ground) of a reportage about brothels, which was executed under the French mandate.
Next are two pieces by David Hockney, the most expensive living painter in the world. Hockney painted five canvases on Lebanon. Two of them––a view of the mountain and the portrait of a person who, according to Daher, was traced to having been in Beirut but is non-identified––were acquired by Jabre. The other three are now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Oxburg Museum in Germany and in London at Hayat Mrueh Palumbo.
Two silkscreen paintings provide the next amazement. Printed on paper and mounted on canvas, they are signed by Andy Warhol. The paintings are not of Marilyn or Prince Orange. Instead, the American artist highlights the violence of the 1983 attack against the marines in Beirut. The size of these unique pieces: 60.9 centimeters by 50.8 centimeters.
There are also hookah smoking robots wearing traditional clothing that are worth mentioning and seeing. These exceptional objects were manufactured by Leopold Lambert and date back to the golden age of Orientalism at the end of the 19th century, a time when Turkish boudoirs were hideouts for the Western bourgeoisie.
On the list as well are porcelain dolls in Moorish clothing that were made in France, four Lebanese composite (compound elements) characters from 1920 and posters from travel agencies (Air Lebanon, PanAm, BOAC, etc.) and of PLM tourism (Paris-Lyon-Mediterranee).
While waiting for the opening of the Beit Chabab’s museum, the exhibition "Lebanon... the journey" is a must-see.
(This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour on the 19th of september)