When British artist Tom Young was invited to exhibit his paintings of Beirut at the former home of past British ambassadors in the city, he had the bright idea of including not just views of the venerable red-painted 97-year old building but a collection of portraits of those who used to visit. So General de Gaulle came from Young’s brush, along with British Major General Sir Edward Spears, Bishara Khoury, Lebanon’s first independence president, Camille Chamoun, another ex-president, prime minister Riad el-Solh, General Georges Catroux – de Gaulle’s man in Lebanon during the Second World War – and other luminaries of the 1940s. Spears had lived in the red “Al Zaher” house and his office there is mentioned in his own memoirs.
But Young had not reckoned with the sensitivities of the large Muslim NGO Dar al-Aytam al-Islamiya, which now owns the building and had invited the young artist to stage the exhibition. For no sooner did Young begin to hang his portraits – all painted from photographs – than they were taken from the walls. Only his pictures of the building and Beirut scenes were to be exhibited, the charity’s general manager, Khaled Kabbani decided. No politics.