Omar Onsi

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Omar Onsi
Umar al-Unsi

Tallet Al-Khayat, Beirut, Lebanon
Died3 June, 1969
Beirut, Lebanon
ResidenceLebanon; Amman, Jordan; Paris, France
EducationKhalil Saleeby in Lebanon; Académie Julian, Paris
Known forPainter
StyleModern art, Impressionism, Realism

Omar Onsi (1901-1969) (Arabic: عمر أنسي‎); is a pioneer of modern painting in Lebanon and Lebanon's most renowned impressionist painter.

Life and career[edit]

Omar Onsi was born in Tallet Al-Khayat, Beirut in 1901. His father, Dr. Abdul Rahman El Ounsi, was a prominent general practitioner, had been one of the first Beirut Muslims to study modern Western medicine[1] and his mother came from the prominent Sunni Muslim family Salam, who notably dressed in Western attire. [2] He was named after his patneral grandfather, the scholarly poet, Omar, who was well-known in Beirut. [3]

After an attempt to study medicine,[4] Onsi studied painting in Beirut with Khalil Saleeby at his atelier across the street from Beirut University.[5]

In around 1922, he travelled to Amman in Jordan, where he settled for a number of years (1922-1927),[6] and taught painting and English to the children of King Abdullah.[5] His career subsequently benefited from the patronage of the Jordanian King. [7] The discovery of the desert and its colours during this stay in Amman had a major influence on his work.[5][8] During this time, he also documented the indigenous peoples, both ethnographically and visually. [9]

In 1928, Onsi went to Paris to continue his training and stayed for 3 years, attending the Académie Julian[10] and different workshops.[5] During that period, Onsi focused on painting portraits, nudes, and Parisian scenery.[11] While in Paris, he met the painter, Georges Cyr and the sculptor, Youssef El-Houwayek, with whom he became a lifelong friend. He also met his first wife, Ema, in Paris. [12]

In 1930, following the untimely death of his first wife, he travelled to Al Suwayda in Syria for a period of mourning. In 1933, he returned to Lebanon, bringing back a colorful impressionist palette[13] and a French second wife.[11] From then on, his work focused on the Lebanese landscape.[11] A Lebanese woman, known simply as Grandma Kamal, visited Onsi at his Tallet Al-Khayat property in the late 1930s, and recalled that there were many gazelles roaming about. Gazelles featured prominently in his paintings. [14]

He held his first solo exhibition at the School of Arts and Crafts in Beirut in 1932. At that time, the market for Western-influenced art was emerging as the edcuated middle-classes and elites began to purchase works by local artists. From the outset, Onsi charged relatively high prices for his paintings - 5,000 francs for an allegory, 1,000 for a portrait and around 200 francs for a landscape. However, the landscapes were more popular with the Lebanese elites, and Osni soon began producing landscapes in much greater numbers and began charging higher prices for them. Before long, he was receiving an average price of 500 francs for a landscape. The local press quickly touted him as a skilled paysagiste, a title that soon launched his career. [15]

Onsi continued to travel throughout he 1940s and 50s, and exhibited his work in Germany, Spain, Italy, and Egypt. He died on 3 June, 1969 in Beirut, after suffering from stomach cancer. [16]

Along with artists, Mustafa Farrukh (1901-1957), César Gemayel (Qaisarr Jumayil) (1898-1958), Saliba Douaihy (Saliba Duwaihi) (b. 1915) and Rachid Wehbi (Rachid Wahbah)(b. 1917), Osni is regarded as a pioneer, having laid the foundations for a modern arts movement in Lebanon. These artists established an originality and freedom of expression that had never before been seen in Lebanon. [17]

After his death, he became one of Lebanon's best-known artists.[18]


Osni focussed on natural views (al-manazir al tabi'iyya) in which he strove to remove "traces of himself as a rationalizing being and to react unselfconsciously with sure draughtsmanship, direct brushwork, and heightened sensitivity to optical effects." He spent hours engaged in observation before rendering a graphic version of a subject. [19] His painting, The Solitary House, is said to be the finest example of his style. [20] He worked in pencil, watercolour, oil and occasionally in clay and bronze, although few of his figurines are extant.

Solo Exhibitions[edit]

Group Exhibitions[edit]

  • Art from Lebanon, Beirut Exhibition Center, 2012[22]

Select list of paintings

  • Bedouin, 1926 Watercolor, 43 x 33 cm 1926
  • Beirut (pre-1930), bef. 1930, Oil on Canvas, 50 x 65 cm
  • A Passage to Lebanon, 1931 Oil on Panel, 40.5 X 32.5cm
  • Beirut Landscape, Gouache on Paper
  • Beirut Suburbs,date unknown, Oil on board, 36 x 52cm
  • View of Hauran, 1935 Oil on canvas
  • Nabeh el Safa, 1936 Watercolor, 35 x 50 cm, Joseph and Aline Faloughi collection, Beirut
  • Fountain, 1936 Oil on wood 38 x 46 cm Agial Art Gallery, Beirut
  • The Solitary House,
  • Village in Lebanon, 1937
  • Old Pine, 1940 Watercolor, 56 x 44 cm Joseph and Aline Faloughi collection, Beirut
  • Mountain Landscape, 1938 Oil on canvas, 65 x 75 cm Joseph and Aline Faloughi collection, Beirut
  • Dabkeh, date unknown 200 x 556 cm, Military School, Fayadiyeh
  • Orange Grove in Sidon, date unknown, Oil, 39.5 x 31.5 cm, Collection of Mrs Haya Onsi Tabbara
  • Path to the Artist's Home, date unknown, Oil, 59 x 71 cm, Collection Mrs. Bouchra Onsi
  • House on Rocks at Ain El Tannour, Meyrouba, date unknown, Watercolor, 39 x 30 cm, Collection Mr. Tammam Salam
  • The Tattooing, date unknown, Watercolor, 33 x 43 cm, Collection Mr Mansour Onsi
  • Camels at the Drinking Trough, date unknown, Oil, 80 x 99 cm, Collection Dr. Hassan Rifai
  • Two Gazelles, date unknown, Watercolor, 33 x 48 cm, Collection Mr Samir Abillamah
  • Kurd Women in Beirut, date unknown, Pastel, 48 x 63 cm, Collection Dr, Hassan Rifai
  • Mule in Front of an "Irzal", date unknown, Watercolor, 34 x 47 cm, Collection Mr. Jihad Abillamah
  • Olive-Picking, date unknown, Watercolor, 34 x 49 cm, collection Mr. Farouk Abillamah
  • Tallet El Khayat. date unknown, Oil on canvas
  • The Oak of the village of Aramoun, Watercolor, 37.5 x 57 cm
  • The Village of Mayrouba, Watercolor, 39 x 57 cm date unknown
  • The Village of Baabda, Watercolor, 34 x 52 cm

Awards and Honors[edit]

  • 1947 Lebanese National Order of the Cedars, Knights Rank
  • 1956 Lebanese National Order of the Cedars, Merit Award
  • 1963 Lebanese Philanthropic Merit Award
  • 1964 Lebanese Ministry of Education Medallion
  • 1968 Said Akl Prize
  • 2004 Public sculpture installed in his honor in the park of the Serail, (Lebanese Government offices), Beirut, Lebanon


  1. ^ Berque, Jacques; Chevallier, Dominique (1976). Les Arabes par leurs archives (XVI-XX siecles). Centre national de la recherche scientifique. p. 197. ISBN 978-2-222-01836-0.
  2. ^ Kassir, S., Beirut, (translated by M.B. DeBevoise), University of California Press, 2011, p.205
  3. ^ El Ounsi, M.M. "Omar Onsi" [Biographical Notes], One Fine Art, Online:
  4. ^ "عُمر الأنسي" (in Arabic). Yabeyrouth. Retrieved August 26, 2011.
  5. ^ a b c d Naef, Silvia (1996). À la recherche d'une modernité arabe: l'évolution des arts plastiques en Égypte, au Liban et en Irak (in French). Slatkine. p. 160. ISBN 978-2-05-101376-5.
  6. ^ Bloom, J.M. and Blair, S. S., The Grove Encyclopedia of Islamic Art and Architecture, p. 36; Jordan. Jordan Information Bureau, 1981, p. 53
  7. ^ Zuhur, S. (ed.), Colors of Enchantment: Theater, Dance, Music, and the Visual Arts of the Middle East,American University in Cairo Press, 2001, p. 375
  8. ^ Omar Onsi: The gardener of epiphanies. Beirut: CREE. 1985. Retrieved August 26, 2011.
  9. ^ The Mathaf Encyclopedia of Modern Art and the Modern World, Online:
  10. ^ Mikdadi, Salwa. "Modern Art in West Asia: From Colonial to Post-colonial Period". Metropolitan Museum of Art. Retrieved August 26, 2011.
  11. ^ a b c "Omar Onsi". Art in Lebanon. Retrieved August 26, 2011.
  12. ^ El Ounsi, M.M. "Omar Onsi" [Biographical Notes], One Fine Art, Online:
  13. ^ "Consultation collective sur les problèmes contemporains des arts arabes dans leurs relations socio-culturelles avec le monde arabe" (PDF) (in French). Unesco. December 1973: 4. Retrieved August 26, 2011.
  14. ^ Kamal Maalouf Abou-ChaarMemoirs of Grandma Kamal: Unique Personal Experience and Encounters, World Book Publishing, 1999, p. 124
  15. ^ Schayegh, C and Arsan, A., The Routledge Handbook of the History of the Middle East Mandates, Routledge, 2005, [E-book edition], n.p.; the authors note that the average price of his landscapes (500 francs) was equivalent to a month's salary for a middle-class professional.
  16. ^ The Mathaf Encyclopedia of Modern Art and the Modern World, Online:
  17. ^ Zuhur, S. (ed.), Colors of Enchantment: Theater, Dance, Music, and the Visual Arts of the Middle East, American University of Cairo Press, 2001, p. 369;Kassir, S., Beirut, University of California Press, 2011, p.292 and p.331;Bloom, J.M. and Blair, S (eds), The Grove Encyclopedia of Islamic Art and Architecture, Volume 2, Oxford University Press, 2009, p. 418
  18. ^ Alex Klaushofer (2007). Paradise divided: a portrait of Lebanon. Signal Books. p. 230. ISBN 978-1-904955-35-1.
  19. ^ The Mathaf Encyclopedia of Modern Art and the Modern World, Online:
  20. ^ Bardaouil, S., Surrealism in Egypt: Modernism and the Art and Liberty Group, I.B.Tauris, 2016, [E-book edition], n.p.
  21. ^ The Mathaf Encyclopedia of Modern Art and the Modern World, Online:
  22. ^ "Art From Lebanon". Beirut Exhibition Center. Retrieved 20 December 2012.

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Howling, F., Art in Lebanon, 1930-1975: The Development of Contemporary Art in Lebanon, LAU Press, 2005
  • Cyr, Georges (1950). Omar Onsi (in French). Beirut: Murex. OCLC 229805154.
  • Harawi, Elias (1997). عمر أنسي، ١٩٠١-١٩٦٩ (in Arabic). Beirut: Musée Nicolas Sursock. OCLC 41121364.