One of the first highly influential artists of the modern era, Tawfik Tarek brought formal European techniques back to Syria during the Ottoman occupation. Breaking away from the waning traditional arts, Tarek utilised and spread his knowledge to discuss modernity and the regional politics of the time.
Born in Damascus, Tawfik Tarek (1875–1940) came from a prominent family of military officers under the Ottomans. He studied at the Military Academy of Istanbul, where he was introduced to oil painting. After being imprisoned for nationalist activities, he left for Paris, where he studied drawing, land surveying and urbanism at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, graduating in 1901. When he returned to Damascus, he worked restoring historic monuments and minarets, and teaching art out of his home as well as his own painting. In 1926, Tarek began working between Beirut and Damascus, influencing artists not only in technique but providing an awareness of cultural heritage and a platform for political engagement. Tarek also founded the Fine Arts Club in Damascus which was one of the first spaces dedicated to art in the city.
Depicting scenes from daily life, nature and old Damascus neighbourhoods, Tarek produced portraits, architectural motifs and landscapes. While his painting style followed European realism, historians have pointed to his titles as reflective of a socio-political awareness as well as nationalistic ideologies.