Kahlil Gibran has become one of the most well‑known writers of modern times. His book The Prophet started small and kept growing, to date having sold nine million copies in the US alone. But he was also an accomplished artist, the medium he learned first, and perhaps loved most. His books are filled with his drawings and paintings, influencing and being influenced by the words that accompany them.
Gibran was born in Bcharri, in what would become Lebanon, a small city of stone houses and monasteries nestled high in the mountains. It is a city so picturesque it hurts. His family was dirt poor, lost the little property they had, and he received no formal schooling other than the Bible, number one on the world’s best‑selling books chart, beating The Prophet and even The Lord of the Rings. Gibran spent much of his time as a child drawing.
The family moved to Boston when Gibran was twelve years old. He enrolled in art school, met influential people like Fred Holland Day and Mary Haskell, who supported him, went to school in Beirut, went to Julliard in Paris to study painting with Auguste Rodin, and eventually moved to New York. His first published works were drawings, used for book covers, in 1898. His first exhibition was in 1904 in Boston.
Gibran used many mediums, working with pencil, ink, watercolor, and gouache in his early years, and primarily using oil paint after 1908, when he moved to Paris. It is hard to say who his influences were. He admitted liking J. M. W. Turner, and one can see similarities between Gibran’s paintings and William Blake’s prints. But really, Gibran was his own person, profoundly spiritual, expressive, and just didn’t fit into the box of any specific style. The same can be said of his writing. Maybe that is why The Prophet has never gone out of print.
But the real reason you are reading this, I hope, is not to learn about Khalil Gibran’s life, but to see his art. Too often overlooked, too strange, too hard to define, or just skipped over the popular imagination for one reason or another, it is as moving, if not more so, than his writings.