Gibran Kahlil Gibran

(Becharre, Lebanon, 1883–New York, USA, 1931)

Born to Kahlil Saad Gibran and Kamileh Rahme, Gibran Kahlil Gibran was raised, along with his sisters Marianna and Sultana and his half-brother Boutros, in the bosom of a Lebanese Maronite Christian family.

Around 1891, Kahlil Gibran’s father was arrested on charges of improperly administering the funds he collected. Following his release, and in the wake of economic crises befalling the family, Kamileh decided to emigrate with her children to America.

In 1895 the family arrived in New York before continuing on to Boston. There, Kamileh and her children supported themselves with a small grocery store.

Gibran’s teacher, Florence Pierce, placed the young man under the tutelage of the sybarite and photographer Fred Holland Day, who would become a dear friend and one of the greatest influences on the life of the future artist. Day introduced Gibran into Boston intellectual and bohemian circles. It was also owing to Day that Gibran became acquainted with the art of William Blake (1957-1827) and Eugène Carrière (1849-1906), who would later have an impact on his symbolist works. Around 1898, Gibran returned to Lebanon and studied under Youssef Haddad, his most important teacher. He returned to Boston on the death of Sultana, which was followed by the illnesses and subsequent deaths of Boutros and Kamileh.

Through the mediation of Fred Holland Day, Gibran exhibited his first paintings in 1904, at the Harcourt Studios in Boston, where he met Mary Haskell, who would become his great friend, patroness, and companion for the rest of his life. The following year he published, in Arabic, his first book: Music.

From 1908 to 1910 Gibran lived in Paris, studying painting. At the Académie Julian he studied under Pierre Marcel-Béronneau, who had himself been a pupil of Gustave Moreau and transmitted to Gibran his taste for the values of symbolist painting.

During those years the First Arab Congress was formed, with the inclusion of members from Syria and Lebanon who were seeking the liberation of their homelands from Turkish domination. On his return to Boston, Gibran founded Al-Rabitah, or the Circle of Exiled Poets, an artistic community that promoted the independence of Lebanon through literature.

In 1920, following the First World War (1914-1918) and the subsequent collapse of the Ottoman Empire, Greater Lebanon was created and placed under a French protectorate until its definitive independence in 1943. In 1912 the publication of Broken Wings, Gibran’s most romantic work, had marked the rebirth of Arabic literature.

In 1923, after twenty years of work, Gibran published The Prophet, his best-known work. He spent his final years with Barbara Young—the pseudonym of Henrietta Boughton—who was a book critic for The New York Times and later the author of a splendid biography of Gibran.

Pulmonary ailments and cirrhosis of the liver carried Gibran into his final exile on April 10th, 1931, in New York City. His remains rest in the former Carmelite monastery of Mar Sarkis (St. Sergius) in Becharre, his native city. In the words of the great thinker and artist: Speak not in sorrow of my going, but close your eyes and you shall see me among you, now and forevermore.