The Economist explores Egyptian Modernism through the collection of Mohammed Said Farsi who owns a substantial collection of Egyptian Modern works. He’s selling 25 of them through Christie’s in Dubai this April:
In 1908 the Egyptian School of Fine Arts was founded in Cairo. Paris was still the centre of the art world in the first half of the 20th century, so Egyptian artists naturally looked to France for both scholarship and patronage. Mahmoud Mokhtar, one of the first graduates of the Cairo school, went on to win a scholarship to the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. He became one of many Egyptian artists to soak up European influences, only to return home and use them to create a specifically local imagery. (His most famous sculpture, “Nahdit Misr” or “Egypt’s Renaissance” from 1928, stands at the gate of Cairo University.) The result is an Egyptian modernism full of its own kind of expressionism, surrealism and monumental sculpture. […]
This sale includes important pictures by Tahia Halim, who painted scenes of the Nile and portraits of those who lived along the length of it, and a small rough bronze by Mokhtar. There are also works by Ragheb Ayad, Abul Hadi El-Gazzar, the Wanly brothers, Seif and Adham, who painted together, and two rare folkloric paintings by Abdel Hadi El-Ghazzar, who died in 1965 aged 40 (see slideshow below).
Hamed Nada, a painter who exhibited in Paris and Cairo through the late 1940s and early 1950s, has six works in this sale. This includes “Henna Eve”, a painting of two peculiarly distorted musicians, best known for gracing the cover of Liliane Karnouk’s book, “Modern Egyptian Art: 1910-2003” (see slideshow).
The centrepiece of the sale, though, is a rare early painting by Mahmoud Said, who was among the first generation of modernist Egyptians and died in 1964. Trained as a lawyer, Said travelled widely in Europe, painting only as a hobby. His subjects were ordinary: peasant girls, the crowded architecture of Cairo, men at prayer. At first glance “Les Chadoufs”, from 1934, is a prosaic scene of the rudimentary pumping machinery the Egyptians used to irrigate their fields with Nile water (see slideshow). The value is in its composition, with its three-dimensionality, mid-point perspectives and vaguely religious symbolism (the donkey recalls the entry into Jerusalem) recalling the influence of Renaissance masters such as Fra Angelico and Masaccio. Such details set Said apart from his peers. At $150,000 to $200,000, the estimate is the highest in the sale.
An East-West Confection (Economist)