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The final journey of Huguette Caland, the intrepid Amazon of Lebanese painting

The painter Huguette Caland passed away at the age of 88, following a long illness that slowly deprived her of her creative abilities. Caland’s work captured Lebanon’s golden years, when style, happiness, opulence, a love of life, freedom, cosmopolitanism and hope came together.

Huguette Caland, in 2000. Archives photo: L’Orient-le Jour

Huguette Caland passed away on Tuesday, Sept. 24, at the age of 88. For almost half a century, she was a major figure in Lebanese art and now leaves behind a rich legacy that can be found on the walls of prestigious galleries in Lebanon, such as the Janine Rubeiz gallery, which was her anchor point, and in the most famous Arab and European museums, such as the Tate St Ives in Great Britain and the Kayne Griffin Corcoran in Los Angeles.

Caland was the daughter of Bechara El Khoury, the first president of Lebanon after the French Mandate. She grew up in a world of power and prestige and was a source of pride for her father, even during dark times and sickness. She was a loving, warm and dedicated daughter, and her family proved to be a fertile breeding ground for her artistic talent and creativity.

Caland studied Fine Arts and the American University of Beirut and was introduced into the worlds of design and fashion. An early collaboration with Pierre Cardin proved to be her first step towards the artistic limelight. She designed caftans and “abayas” that soon became a frenzied trend and that she also chose to wear with elegance and style. The caftans became the dress of choice at sheek Beiruti gatherings and even became sought after commodities in Spain.

Her success in fashion transcended Lebanon’s borders, but she soon shifted her attention and dove into the world of upscale restoration. This was during the golden era of Beirut, replete with fine, gourmet cuisine, well-dressed men and beautiful women. But Caland was not fully satisfied, and began working with bronze, papier mache and terracotta, after meeting the Romanian sculptor George Apostu, beginning a new phase of exploration and experimentation.

Caland’s life became a whirlwind of projects, and she became a symbol of female emancipation in the Arab world. She married and had children and, at the age of 40, decided to leave Beirut. It was a decisive decision: the world of painting was calling her, and she immersed herself in her canvases, drawings and sketches.


Romantic carousel

Caland travelled between New York and Los Angeles, where she settled, and Paris, the city of her heart. In the French capital, she met luminary artists, such as Andre Masson and Pierre Schaeffer, and her knowledge and artistic know-how deepened.

Her career spanned more than half a century and including a succession of more than 100 exhibitions. Over the years, her art stayed relevant and also trailblazing. Her work was exhibited in the Institute of the Arab World in Paris in 2012, the Sharjah Art Museum, the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles in 2016 and the Venice Biennale in 2017. She received many honors for her work, from Cornwall, England to Los Angeles.

Caland’s artistic career began in 1972, during the cultural flowering of pre-war Beirut, in an old Lebanese house, called Dar el-Fan, in a working class neighborhood, where Janine Rubeiz gave her the opportunity to premiere her work. From those beginnings, Caland rose to the highest peaks of the art world. Last year, her painting “Good Luck” set a sales record at Christie’s. Estimated to be worth between $80,000 and $120,000, the acrylic painting was sold for $162,500.


And there are many more similar stories…

It is difficult to sum up the artistic career of this brilliant and trailblazing woman who stands besides other luminaries of Lebanese art, such as Helen el-Khal, Yvette Achkar, Paul Guiragossian and Chafic Abboud. Her work ranged from playful, sensual eroticism, intended to illustrate the writings of Adonis and Andree Chedid, and the bold and elegant lines of clothing she designed with Pierre Cardin to abstract and effusive canvases. In all cases, Caland had a gift for reinventing life. “I was born happy,” she once told a journalist, and her work overflows with joyousness and irrepressible energy.

Childhood memories of gardens by the sea. The need to escape. The thrill of the moment, and it’s transience. The curiosity of emotion. The twist of the heart to provoke a few tears. And the attempt to translate elusive images that defy sense and reason. These are the elements of life that Caland captured in her work with brilliant brush strokes, subtle colors, precision and imagination. Her career––and life––were an incredible tour de force.


There will only be one Huguette Caland

by Nadine Begdache, Director of Janine Rubeiz Gallery

Twenty-five years (my most beautiful ones), during which I was around Huguette Caland. We worked closely together. These years flew by. For me, working with her has been the most beautiful and the most fulfilling experience as a gallery owner.

A free woman, Huguette embodied the joy of living. She expressed her feelings and thoughts with her brush and her colors. Very dynamic, she responded with speed and delight to all requests. With her, everything was done with cheerfulness. She always used the right words to make us feel relaxed and to make us laugh. Nothing was a source of anxiety or tension... "No need to stress. It is not worth it," the woman, who breathed generosity and happiness, used to say.

She painted with love and was happy to respond to customers' requests and to please them. Each exhibition was a source of happiness.

When something annoyed me, she would say: "Nadine, tawle belek (Arabic for be patient)". This is what her friend Helen el-Khal had told her the day Huguette had an argument with Janine (Rubeiz, Ed) at Dar el-Fan.

She always had a nice word for everyone at the gallery. The whole staff loved her. She was generous in her heart and generous at everything. She liked to offer her drawings to the members of the team.

She did not like violence, and she accepted the idea of death while loving and enjoying life. She knew exactly who she was and what she wanted to express.

The emptiness she left behind is huge. I hope that my memories will fill that void. Her work will be here to remind us of her authenticity, her courage, her boldness and her love for freedom, which made her become part of the lineage of the greatest artists.

There will only be one Huguette Caland.


(This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour on the 25th of September)



Huguette Caland passed away on Tuesday, Sept. 24, at the age of 88. For almost half a century, she was a major figure in Lebanese art and now leaves behind a rich legacy that can be found on the walls of prestigious galleries in Lebanon, such as the Janine Rubeiz gallery, which was her anchor point, and in the most famous Arab and European museums, such as the Tate St Ives in Great Britain and...