Simon Samsonian The Globetrotter Artist
Samson, a small seaside town and seaport in North Turkey’s Trabzon province, is where Simon Samsonian (1912–2003) was born. It had about 15,000 residents in 1915, of whom about a third were Armenians. The rests were Greeks and Turks.
During the Armenian Genocide of 1915, Samsonian was separated from his parents and was never able to find them again. His artistic abilities as a young boy in the orphanages of Greece and Egypt weren’t overlooked. He received a scholarship to study at the Alexandria, Egypt-based Leonardo Da Vinci School of Art. He did exceptionally well in school there and later joined the faculty. His works can be found in museums, galleries, and private collections all over the world.
His first solo performance took place in 1936 at Cairo’s Armenian Artistic Club. He later obtained employment with an Armenian printing company, and from 1936 to 1939, he taught art at Kalousdian Armenian National School. He wed Lucy Guendimian, one of his Kalousdian pupils, in 1939. She instantly became his best friend for life and the best mother to their three kids.
Samsonian started attending the annual Cairo saloons beginning in 1937. He contributed seven pieces to the first significant exhibition of Armenian-Egyptian artists, which took place at the Oriental Company of Publicity in Cairo from March 25 to April 15, 1945.
At the Egypt-Europe gallery in the first half of March 1949, he displayed 90 of his pieces. Critic Dikran Antranikian praised this exhibition but noted some crudeness in a few of the pieces.
The most significant “event” in Samsonian’s artistic life, however, took place during his study trip to Europe (Italy, Paris, and London) in the first half of 1950. His perceptions of aesthetics were drastically altered by this journey. He never, however, allowed the great European masters of either the classical or modern periods to directly influence him, and he steadfastly protected the originality of his work. Once he was back in Cairo, he gradually incorporated Fauvism and Cubism into his stylized realism.
The most “brilliant” years in Samsonian’s life and artistic career occurred between 1950 and 1968. After roughly four “transitive” years (1950–1954), his new, more original and robust style first emerged in 1955 with a superb work like The Portrait of Lucy, his wife.
The Cello Player, which was displayed in the second Biennale of Alexandria in 1957, The Resting Ballerina, Young Girl at the Beach, The Caliph Omar Ibn Al- Khattab Praying in Jerusalem, and Fellaha, an Egyptian country girl, were among the outstanding works he produced from that point forward. At this point, he was at the height of his professional excellence. This final piece received high praise from both the general public and the art world, and it is now regarded as one of the most significant pieces of modern Egyptian art. The Blind Man from 1961, Reading at the Beach from 1962, Rest from 1963, The Student from 1964, and Tenderness from 1967, among others.
He frequently took part in numerous group exhibitions during this time in Cairo and Alexandria. The first three Biennales of Alexandria (1955, 1957, and 1959) shared a design aesthetic with the majority of Cairo’s annual saloons. Cairo (1945, 1958, 1962), Alexandria (1953), and other cities hosted the four group exhibitions of Armenian-Egyptian artists.
But Samsonian’s third solo exhibition, held in Cairo at the galleries of the Society of the Friends of Art (Societe des Amies de l’Art), was “the crown” of his artistic endeavours in Egypt. The dates for this exhibition were 11–22 January 1961.
41 paintings produced over the past ten years were on display at the Samsonian. In a piece that appeared in Le Progres Egyptien on January 14, 1961, critic Jean Moscatelli wrote highly favourable reviews of this exhibition. He specifically referred to Samsonian’s works’ strong compositions and sense of balance.
The Student, a painting by the artist, took home the top honour at the Cairo Saloon in the spring of 1964. He received a paid trip to Europe as a reward from the Egyptian Ministry of Culture. He visited Paris and London for the second time in his life in 1965 and 1967 to research the most recent developments in the plastic arts. As a result, Samsonian rose to prominence as the most well-known Armenian-Egyptian artist in Egypt’s history of twentieth-century art.
He also took home the top prize in the Cairo Saloons in 1965 and 1967. As a result, he rose to become the most well-known Armenian-Egyptian artist in the history of 20th-century Egyptian art (aside from Ashod Zoryan).
A pivotal year for Simon Samsonian was 1968. He also left Egypt with his wife and younger daughter Hilda and moved to New York this year to join his son Hagop and elder daughter Sona, who had immigrated to America a few years earlier.
On their way to the United States, they spent two months in Athens in May and June. Samsonian held a solo exhibition of his works in Athens in the first half of June. Australian Qantas Airways sponsored the event, which featured 14 oil paintings and 24 watercolours.
This was his fourth private exhibition, and the Greek media, including the biggest newspaper Ethnos, gave it high marks. A critic by the name of Panaiotopoulos called it “the best cultural event of the year.”
His solo exhibition was presented in the gallery of the Armenian Benevolent Union during his first year in New York (1968). It made sense that he only displayed artwork made in Egypt. His second solo exhibition took place in 1969 at KAR galleries in Toronto, Canada. The Lynn Kottler Galleries on Madison Avenue in New York hosted the third solo exhibition in January 1972. His fourth private exhibition in the new world was organized by the City University of New York’s Art Committee the same year.
His “greatest dream” came true in 1973. He travelled to Armenia (for the first and final time) with his wife, and in Yerevan, the nation’s capital, he held a retrospective exhibition of his artwork.
An album showcasing his life and work was published in 1988 by the Armenian General Benevolent Union in New York. But after that, he began to lose interest in exhibiting his work in New York galleries, and he settled into a quiet existence, content to produce occasional pieces of art until his passing on November 4, 2003, at the age of 81.
The National Art Gallery in Yerevan, Armenia, the Museum of Modern Art in Cairo, Egypt, the Musée Arménien de France, the Mekhitarist Fathers’ Monastic Order’s collection in Vienna, Austria, and the Hecksher Museum of Art in Huntington, New York all have Samsonian pieces on display.