“The term salt of the earth is used to describe something altruistic and humble, and that’s something my father was, so it just made sense.”
Rabat – Dozens of paintings by the iconic Moroccan artist, Hassan El Glaoui, are on display at the Mohammed VI Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Rabat, offering a rare chance to see many of the works of a man who left an indelible mark on Moroccan art.
Hassan El Glaoui died on June 21, 2018, at the age of 94, after a long and fascinating life. His works at the exhibition, titled, “The Salt of My Earth,” are mostly never before seen portraits, allowing visitors to better understand what made El Glaoui the man he was.
Touria El Glaoui, Hassan El Glaoui’s daughter who curated the exhibition and is an influential figure in the art world in her own right, told Morocco World News that the exhibition is called “The Salt of My Earth” because many of El Glaoui’s paintings “gave the true flavor of Morocco,” perfectly representing day to day life in Morocco in his time.
“The term salt of the earth is also used to describe something altruistic and humble, and that’s something my father was, so it just made sense.”
The title is also a callback to the family’s illustrious history, as the El Glaoui family traded salt when it was one of the most valuable minerals.
The iconic painter has one of the most fascinating family histories in Morocco: Hassan was born in Marrakech in 1923 to Thami El Glaoui, the last Pasha of Marrakech, also known by other formidable names such as “the Lord of the Atlas” or “the black panther of Morocco.” Thami was, for a time, one of the richest men in the world and the most powerful man in Morocco.
Thami, having lived the life of a powerful warlord, expected his sons to fill respectable roles. He was hesitant about his oldest son pursuing a career in art until one of the most significant men in history recognized Hassan’s talent and convinced his father to let him follow his passion.
That man was Sir Winston Churchill, a close friend of the Pasha. When visiting Thami in his office one day in 1943, Churchill spotted some of Hassan’s sketches and instantly recognized Hassan had a talent.
On display upon immediately walking into the “Salt of My Earth exhibition” are colorful sketches of domestic servants in his father’s garden, the kind of sketches Churchill would have seen.
Churchill persuaded the pasha to send his son to Paris to receive a formal education in art. He attended the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and went on to spend 15 years in Paris.
From there, El Glaoui’s artistic career began to take off. His paintings of fantasia horsemen and classical Moroccan scenes gained acclaim both in his home country and abroad, and his work was exhibited in London, Paris, New York, and of course, Morocco.
These paintings are what Hassan El Glaoui is most known for, but “The Salt of My Earth” exhibition seeks to show a more personal side of the artist that has rarely been seen before.
Many of the artworks on display are not of horses but of Hassan El Glaoui’s wife, Christine Legendre, a former French Givenchy model he met during his time in Paris, and the three daughters they had together.
Fantasia horses are how Hassan made his name, but when asked what served as his biggest inspiration and muse, Touria told Morocco World News: “For a long time I think it was my mother. She has one of the most painted portraits in the family house. For him, it was always people dear to him and near to his heart.”
These portraits were very special to Hassan El Glaoui and were rarely on display during his lifetime. The exhibition offers new insight into who Hassan El Glaoui really was and what mattered to him most.
“Salt of My Earth” will run from April 2 to August 31.
Touria El Glaoui is carrying on her father’s art legacy, having founded the 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair, which takes place in London, New York, and Marrakech every year to bring visibility to African artists on the global market. Another one of his three daughters, Ghizlane, also followed her father’s footsteps into the art world. Ghizlane mixes traditional oil painting techniques with customizable LED lighting to create illuminated mosaic pieces.