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Mahmoud Mokhtar (Egypt, 1891-1934)
signed "M. Mokhtar" on the base, executed circa late 1920's
Property from a private collection Cairo
Originally in the collection of Dr Mohammed Fakhry
Thence by descent to Layla and Ahmed Mohammed Fakhry
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner
Dr. Emad Abou Ghazi has kindly confirmed the authenticity of this work.
A RARE AND MAGNIFICENT BASALT SCULPTURE BY MAHMOUD MOKHTAR
"There had been no sculptor in my country for seventeen hundred years and the images that appeared among the ruins and sands at the edge of the desert were considered accursed, evil -- no one should go near" - Mahmoud Mokhtar
"On the Banks of the Nile portrays a female peasant who can be considered a symbol for our entire people" - Dr. Emad Abou Ghazi
"In letters dated January 5 and 12," wrote Mokhtar, "I am asked to provide two letters of good conduct. well, it happens that my conduct is bad. I have a bad temper. I was sentenced to 15 days in prison. Furthermore, I wear a beard and that is frowned on here. I am a bachelor, and I frequent certain particular houses. You see, I am therefore condemned to never become a public servant, ever.Please accept the expression of my distinguished regards." - Mahmoud Mokhtar
"Mokhtar was a unique phenomenon, which held us spell-bound. His sudden emergence generated such a surprise and amazement that we referred to him as a genius."
- Dr Taha Hussein
"Mokhtar was a devoted son of Egyptian female villagers, whom he idolized in his works as a graceful symbol of Egypt. Mokhtar is the genuine product of Egypt, he came from its countryside, he formed the conscience of a whole nation, so he has been etched in the national memory as our pioneering sculptor"
- Mohsen Shaalan
Bonhams are proud to present the rare appearance of a carved basalt sculpture by Mahmoud Mokhtar. Poignant, enigmatic and graceful, "On the Banks of the Nile" is the archetypal synthesis of Mokhtar's representations of the noble Egyptian rural peasant or fellaha
Mokhtar's empathetic and stylized representations of Egyptian daily life, pronounced so touchingly in the present work, would later be regarded as the supreme expression of Egyptian artistic heritage in the twentieth century.
Tender and ennobling in its portrayal of the dignified Egyptian fellaha (or peasant woman), the sculpture is evidence of an artist who captured the true spirit of the age in his penetrative renderings of the Egyptians and their everyday plight.
Mahmoud Mokhtar is considered a pioneer of modern Egyptian art, yet he also occupies a prominent place in the history of the modern Egyptian nation. Self-styled as the first Egyptian sculptor in over two millennia, Mahmoud Mokhtar deftly blended Pharaonic imagery with a modern European sculptural aesthetic to create quintessentially nationalist Egyptian artwork.
Mokhtar was born in 1891 into a fellaheen/peasant family in the town of Tunbarah near the central Delta town of al-Mahallah al-Kubra, son of an omdah [local village mayor], named Ibrahim el-Essaoui. The artist would later recall molding figurines out of mud from the Nile riverbanks during his childhood. Around 1900, he moved with his mother and his two sisters, Hafeethah and Badee'a, to Cairo where he attended pri mary school, learned Arabic and French, and experienced the modern and traditional architecture of the city of Cairo.
In 1908, Mokhtar joined the first class at the École Égyptienne des Beaux-Arts when it opened in Darb al-Gamameez. There, he studied the traditional curriculum of the French Beaux-Arts, and began sculpting allegorical figures of Islamic history in a classic academic style. After graduating top of his class in 1912, Mokhtar travelled on scholarship funded by Prince Youssef Kamal to attend the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. He enrolled in the studio of French sculptor, Jules-Felix Coutan, as a visiting student. As the pedagogical methods were based in the study of ancient art, he increasingly incorporated ancient Egyptian themes into his work.
Mokhtar lived a meager existence for the remainder of the 1910s in Paris and worked various menial jobs while continuing to sculpt. He briefly replaced Guillaume Laplange as interim artistic director of a wax museum, Musée Grévin, at the end of World War I. At the museum, Mokhtar sculpted statues of political leaders, such as Georges Clemenceau and Woodrow Wilson, and celebrities such as ballerina Anna Pavalova and the Egyptian singer Oum Kalthoum.
Mokhtar was deeply moved by the 1919 Revolution in Egypt against the British occupation, and sculpted a small model called Nahdat Misr [Egypt Awakening], for the Salon des Artistes Français in 1920. The work, which Saad Zaghloul considered an expression of national revival, depicts a fellaha and a sphinx, representing the magnificent history of ancient Egypt and the agricultural prowess of the Nile Valley. The piece immediately drew attention from a group of visiting Egyptian students, including noted politician Wissa Wassef. The students returned to Cairo with a campaign to commission, fund, and erect a monumental version of the sculpture. After eight years of fundraising and unpredictable political upheaval, the sculpture was unveiled on Sunday, 20 May 1928 in Bab el-Hadid Square (currently Ramses Square), facing the Cairo railway station (later to be moved outside Cairo University in 1955). Nahdat Misr was the first publicly exhibited sculpture by an Egyptian artist, and continues to be a powerful symbol of the modern nation to this day.
During visits to Egypt, Mokhtar assumed a leading position in the nationalist art movement, distinguishing him from the pioneer painters, such as Youssef Kamel, Ragheb Ayad, Ahmed Sabry, Mahmoud Said, and Mohamed Naghi. Mokhtar participated in demonstrations for independence and created statues to express national identity, calling for social and political reform. An influential member of the Wafd Party, Mokhtar and prominent writers including Abbas Mahmoud el-Aqqad, Abdelqader al-Mazani, and Mahmoud Azmi wrote critical newspaper articles aimed at enhancing art appreciation among intellectual elites. Mokhtar was not simply an artist, rather he mobilized his art for the larger anti-imperialist nationalist movement.
Because of Nahdat Misr, Mokhtar rose to national prominence, gaining the ability to maintain studios in both Cairo and Paris. In 1930, he exhibited bronze, marble, and stone pieces at the renowned Bernheim-Jeune Gallery in Paris. In these works, he blended Pharaonic imagery with a classicist aesthetic. The most famous, al-Khamaseen (1929), portrays a fellaha moving against the sand storms that blow for fifty days during Egyptian spring. As she battles forward, her cloak billows behind her, revealing the contours of her body. The press lauded the exhibit, and the French government purchased the stone copy of Arous al-Nil (Bride of the Nile), currently in the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris.
In 1934, Mokhtar died of leukemia. Afterwards, prominent intellectuals along with the Society of Mokhtar's Friends, headed by Egyptian feminist Huda Sha'arawi, campaigned tirelessly to open a museum for his work. In 1952, the Mahmoud Mokhtar Museum, designed by Ramses Wissa Wassef, opened on Gezirah Island in Cairo. It continues to hold the majority of the artist's works.
Mokhtar continues to be esteemed as Egypt's most famous sculptor despite his relatively short career. Not only did his art and writing set the stage for modern Egyptian art history, his works, Nahdat Misr in particular, played an active role in larger history of modern Egypt.