Saeed Tahsin (1904–1985) was born and died in Damascus leaving behind a magnificent legacy of historically significant artwork created during his 80-plus years. Tahsin was a self-trained artist who began his career by studying art in libraries and was greatly influenced by folk art traditions such as silk painting. His early works carry either a realistic style and bright colors with attention to detail, or an impressionist style and involve a careful study of light and shadow. He practiced the hobby that he adopted as a child diligently and worked hard until he became a prestigious artist, consistently combining innate creativity with self-development.
The number of works by Saeed Tahsin numbered more than 2000 between paintings, drawings, and sketches, all of which were an honest record of his vision and ideas.
In 1958, the Ministry of Culture of the United Arab Republic acquired a large number of his paintings and in 1983 he was awarded the Syrian Order of Merit.
When he was asked about the academy from which he graduated, he replied: “From my own academy. I started drawing early as a child, and my passion for art made me drop out of school after getting my primary school degree. In fact, I studied art privately. I could not put down a research book on the art of painting and colors without examining its ideas to increase my knowledge of this wonderful art.”
At the beginning of his career, Saeed Tahsin was influenced by the work of folk photographers who depicted naïve decorative folk themes on silk pieces and the covers of cushions that they decorated with flowers or birds. He accompanied the artists who created paintings on canvas at the silk market in Damascus. His work was characterized by realism and attention to detail, as well as evoking the spirits of colors that manifest shadow and light.
Between 1925 and 1927, he founded an art school in Beirut in the Ghalayini Building. He also worked in the field of painting for some magazines, newspapers, and textbooks.
When he was summoned by the administration of the Teachers’ House in Baghdad in 1934, Tahsin left Syria to teach art in Iraq where he was influenced by revolutionary Arab nationalist ideas. This led to the production of paintings in which he dealt with social and political themes.
Upon his return to Damascus, he taught art in its schools. He contributed to the establishment of the Arab Society for Fine Arts, was elected its president, and participated in its exhibitions organized by the National Museum in Damascus.
Tahsin moved to Egypt in 1962, where he settled until 1983, and continued his artistic career by painting subjects related to events from Egyptian and Arab history as well as scenes from daily life. There, the artist’s distinctive style manifested itself in the “realistic” and “documentary” schools, which linked his experience to Arab history and reflected his attachment to Arabism.
His paintings have chronicled important events in modern history and issues that have always preoccupied him such as “good and evil”, “freedom”, and “enslavement”.
And this is how he portrayed “the famine in Syria during the First World War.”
In this painting, a cry is launched by a man that conveys the reality of the frightening hunger brought about by the horrors of war, the deprivation and degradation it causes, and the repercussions to humanity as mass deaths reap a profound emotional toll.
He also has many other historical paintings such as The Execution Scene of the May 6th Martyrs, The Battle of Maysalun, The Attack on the Parliament, and My Daughter Will Return to Palestine.
Here we realize the importance of the Arab artist with respect to the freedom from the classic art struggle that exists in the Arab world. Tahsin was one of the artists who used their unique creativity to present Syria in all its abundance and originality. His magnificent paintings convince us of the sound logic of “realism” which captures for posterity historical events which allows art patrons of any era to feel as if they were happening in front of their eyes.
Saeed Tahsin was one of the pioneers of modern art in Syria and his artistic experience became an inspiration for subsequent generations due to the sincerity of his feelings, the depth of his emotions, and his connection to the highly evolving local environment.
Shortly before his death, Tahsin took a photo of this magnificent “Last Dinner” painting. Many fans of his art are still looking for it but until this day it has not been found.