There is a given magnificence and luminosity present in the work of Hassan El Glaoui. The art of painting is, for him, an elegant way to take distance and shift from reality. He goes around it by passing on the other side of appearances.Tahar Ben Jelloun
Hassan El Glaoui was born in Marrakech, Morocco, in 1923. He was the son of Marrakech’s last Pasha and the father of the founder of 1:54 Art Fair, Touria El Glaoui. He is one of Morocco’s most famous artists if not the quintessential Moroccan artist.
El Glaoui started painting by himself. His father allowed him to pursue his career as an artist thanks to Winston Churchill, a great friend of the Pasha. Coming from a Berber family, a career as a painter was out of line. Later on, another family friend, Sir Anson Goodyear (founder of the MoMA in New York) saw his work and encouraged him.
Thus, in 1952, El Glaoui went to Paris. He exhibited his work at the gallery Weill while studying at the Beaux-Arts Academy. He went back to Morocco 13 years later.
If Hassan’s work cannot be limited to horse scenes, they are a major part of his works. The last Pasha of Marrakech, his father, was of Berber origins. The art of warfare is inherent in Berber culture. Thus, at a very young age, Hassan was offered a poney. Moreover, he witnessed his father horseback riding on numerous occasions and the Fantasia tradition is part of Maghreb’s culture. Which is why, having witnessed so many Fantasia and horseback riding scenes, this theme is omnipresent in the painter’s oeuvre.
The Tbourida, also called Fantasia, is a traditional performance that is found in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Mali, Niger and Mauritania.
The Fantasia dates back to the XV century and is the reenactment of the fights between the Arabs and the Berber. A group of horse riders wearing traditional clothes charge, in line, at the same speed. At the end of the charge, they all fire into the sky using muskets or old riffles.
If the Fantasia used to be a battle tactic, it is now a performance. In Morocco, these performances take place on cultural or religious festivals and notably during the birthday celebrations of the King Hassan II.
People who say I’m the painter of horses do not know my painting…Hassan El Glaoui
Indeed, El Glaoui is famous for his depictions of horses. He is also famous for not having followed the quarrels that took place within contemporary Moroccan painting. He did not leave the figurative for the abstract and kept his very unique style.
But he did not only paint the Fantasia. Hassan El Glaoui was also an excellent portraitist and still-life painter.
His portraits recall that made by a Matisse or a Raoul Dufy. However, the subject matter is always traditional like in this portrait. Portrait of a woman in the garden, painted during his early-life, clearly shows his influences.
Yellow and blue are two primary colours. Like the European expressionists (Matisse, Kirchner, etc.), El Glaoui used primary colours in his paintings. The colours give emotion.
Furthermore, the woman is wearing traditional clothes. This shows how Hassan El Glaoui did not just want to follow the path of his European peers, but rather take the best out of it.
El Glaoui also painted beautifully modern still-lives.
This one, with apples and lemons, is one of my favourites. I find it extremely modern in the choice of colour. Indeed, this extreme whiteness is more often found in abstract paintings. Maurice Denis also used a lot of white. However, in Denis’ work the colour white is linked to Christianity. Here, the subject is not religious and yet the fruits are presented as if they were sacred.
The painter also played with different shades of white and pale colours. By doing so, he showed his virtuosity in the handling of colours, with white being one of the most difficult colours to use.
His daughter, founder of the 1:54 Art Fair London, New-York and Marrakech now carries the legacy of her father, who passed away in 2018.