Profile: Faik Hassan

Faik Hassan is regarded the founder of the modern plastic art in Iraq. He was also a notable impressionist, and while in France he came across the work of the cubists.

Faik Hassan 1914-1992
Faik Hassan 1914-1992

In 1935, Hassan was one of several Iraqi artists sent to the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in France to study art. Upon their return during and after the second world war, they founded the cornerstone of modern art in Iraq.


In 1939, he established the Institute of Fine Arts in Baghdad, which included a painting department in which he lectured. From this department graduated many leading Iraqi artists.


In 1940, he joined the Friends of Arts Association, which was dedicated to the promotion of art in Iraq. Several associations emerged after that creation of an active artistic movement.


Royal promise


Faik Hassan was born in 1914. He grew up in a poor family. His father died before Faik was born. As a child, he helped his mother in her profession, making folkloric clay statues representing Arab beduins and farmers.


Arab horseman by Faik Hassan; he documented ordinary life

Arab horseman by Faik Hassan;
he documented ordinary life

When he was 12, he visited his uncle who worked as a gardener in the royal palace of King Faisal I. The founder of the modern Iraqi state saw Hassan drawing a horse drinking water from the river. The king sensed the boy’s talent and asked him: “Are you in school?”


Hassan replied with low voice: “Yes, I am in my sixth year in school.”


The king said: “I am going to offer you a scholarship.”


King Faisal died in 1933, before Hassan finished high school. Hassan thought that he had lost the chance of a lifetime. But King Faisal’s son and successor King Ghazi carried out his father’s will and sent him to study in France in 1935 as promised.


Own style

Hassan and several other artists discarded the classic nineteenth century art they studied in France and established a new school of their own that dealt with real life.


Hassan also worked as a chronicler of the daily reality of life. He organised dozens of trips around Iraq, each consisting of several painters; they drew every kind of life in Iraq, including the bedouins in the deserts, fishermen in the southern marshes and rice growers in central Iraq.  


Dr Ali Witwit, a critic and head of the sociology department in al-Qadisya University, Iraq, says Hassan’s paintings were more than imagery of nature.


Witwit described one of Hassan’s paintings that portrayed life in the marshes, saying, “The scene of women working at home crystallised the social system in the marshes: Women work at home while men go out to earn their family’s living.”

Hassan managed to produce internationally recognised paintings that portrayed the daily life of Baghdad‘s people. Critics say that any non-Arab can get an understanding of Hassan’s society and background by viewing and studying his paintings.

In 1950, Hassan established the Pioneers Group and the Corners Group in 1962, the goal of the latter being to focus on social and political issues.

He believed artistic quality could not be improved unless the country was full of artistic movements of different visions and opinions.


Many of the artistic groups that came into existence in the 1950s and 1960s were involved with Hassan somehow or other.

Baghdad chose to honour this remarkable artist through his work titled Celebration of Victory at the city’s Tayaran Square. The mosaic was created when Iraq became a republic.


Hassan continued painting in the impressionist style till the end of his career.

Source : Al Jazeera

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