Mahmoud Said (Egypt, 1897-1964) L'île Heureuse

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Lot 35
Mahmoud Said
(Egypt, 1897-1964)
L'île Heureuse

Sold for £ 1,202,500 (US$ 1,473,626) inc. premium
Mahmoud Said (Egypt, 1897-1964)
L'île Heureuse
oil on wood, in original artists frame
signed and dated 'M.SAÏD 1927' (centre right); signed, dated and titled 'MAHMOUD SAÏD L'ILE HEURESE 1927' (on the reverse of the frame), stamp of the Societe Des Amis De L'Art affixed (on the verso) bearing the title "Salon 1928 No.454"
80 x 70cm (31 1/2 x 27 9/16in).


  • Provenance:
    Property from a private collection Athens,
    Presented as a gift from the artist to Jean Nicolaides, Alexandria, circa 1930's
    Thence by descent to the family of Jean Nicolaides, Athens,
    Acquired directly from the above by the present owner

    Cairo, Palais Tigrane, Société des Amis de l'Art sous le Patronage de S.M. Le Roi, Salon du Caire 1928, January 1928, no. 454.
    Guézireh, Société des Amis de l'Art sous le Patronage de S.M. Le Roi, Catalogue de la rétrospective des oeuvres de Mahmoud Saïd. 1921-1951, 1951, no. 54 (not illustrated).
    Alexandria, Musée des Beaux-Arts & Centre Culturel, À l'occasion du Huitième Anniversaire de la Révolution: Exposition rétrospective des oeuvres du peintre lauréat MAHMOUD SAÏD, 26 July – 26 August 1960, no. 115 (not illustrated).

    Hostelet, Christine. La Peinture au Salon 1928 des Amis de l'Art. La Semaine Égyptienne, nos. 3-4. Cairo. 20 January 1928, p. 8 (illustrated; titled: L'île heureuse);
    Naghi, Mohamed. La Peinture et la Sculpture Contemporaines en Egypte. L'Art Vivant en Egypte, no. 98. Cairo. 15 January 1929, p. 73 (illustrated; titled: L'île heureuse);
    La Semaine Égyptienne. Cahiers des peintres et sculpteurs de l'Égypte moderne no. 1; Mahmoud Saïd. 31 January 1936, no. 59 (illustrated p. 10);
    Rassem, Ahmed. Mahmoud Saïd, The Painter. The book El-Zelaal: A Page from Art in Egypt.
    "ظلال: صفحة من الفن بمصر". Special Edition. Cairo. May 1936 (illustrated; unpaged);
    Rassem, Ahmed. Mahmoud Saïd. Al-Majallah Al-Jadida, July 1936, p. 45 (illustrated);
    Boctor, Gabriel. Artistes contemporains d'Egypte : Mahmoud Saïd. Cairo: Editions Aladin, 1 October 1952, p. 27 (illustrated);
    Azar, Aimé. La peinture moderne en Égypte. Les Editions Nouvelles. Le Caire. 1961, p. 33 (illustrated no. 19);
    Al-Shaal, Mahmoud Al-Nabawy. Art Appreciation. "التذوق الفني". Printed by Dar Memphis for Printing. June 1964, p. 145 (illustrated);
    Dawastashy, Esmat. Mahmoud Saïd: Memorial Book on the Pioneer of
    Contemporary Egyptian Painting – On the 100th Anniversary of his Birth.
    "محمود سعيد: كتاب تذكاري عن رائد التصوير المصري المعاصر بمناسبة مرور مائة عام على مولده". Cairo: Ministry of Culture - The Cultural Development Fund. 1997, no. 43 (illustrated p. 107 & icon p. 298);
    El-Razzaz, Mostafa. Mahmoud Saïd (in Arabic). Cairo. 1997, p. 252 (illustrated);
    Fadel, Layla Aboul Seoud Mohamed. Modulation of the Human Form in Contemporary Egyptian Painting. "تحوير الشكل الإنساني في التصوير المصري المعاصر". Painting Section. Faculty of Fine Arts. University of Helwan. 2003, p. 192 (illustrated);
    Azar, Aimé. La peinture moderne en Égypte - up to 1961. Translated by Edwar Al-Kharat and Naim Attiya. Reviewed by Edwar Al-Kharat. Cairo: Supreme Council of Culture, National Project for Translation. 1st Edition. 2005, p. 41 (illustrated);
    Al-Shafei, Rawya Ossama. Artist Mahmoud Saïd: An Artistic and Analytical Study. MA Thesis. Faculty of Fine Arts of Alexandria, 2012, fig. 47 (illustrated).

    "It is only in 1927, upon completion of the painting L'ile heureuse, that Mahmoud Said discovered his true identity"
    - Dr Mohamed Ahmed Hassan Salem, former Head of the Department of Painting, Faculty of Fine Arts, Alexandria University

    Bonhams have the rare privilege of presenting one of the most exquisite and significant works by the doyen of Egyptian art, Mahmoud Said, ever to come to the market. Poignant, enigmatic and powerful, "L'ile Heureuse" is a milestone work in the artistic development of Mahmoud Said, being specifically identified by scholars and academics as the seminal masterpiece which established his signature style.

    Said's empathetic and stylized representations of Egyptian daily life, enunciated by 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), L'Isle Heureuse is evidence of an artist, who Belying his aristocratic heritage and classical artistic training, captured the true spirit of the age in his penetrative renderings of the Egyptians and their everyday plight

    Lost for nearly half a century, the present work comes to the market for the first time since being presented as a gift from the artist to his close friend, Jean Nicolaides, a successful Greek architect living in Alexandria in the 1930's. Making its way from Alexandria to Athens during the Greek exodus from Egypt in the 1960's the painting

    had already left an indelible mark on the Egyptian art scene, having been exhibited numerous times in Egypt including at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Alexandria, as well as appearing in over a dozen publications. Never before photographed or published in colour, the present sale provides collectors and aficionados with the first opportunity to truly appreciate the splendour of this pivotal work

    Mahmoud Said's body of work is considered as one of them central pillars of twentieth century Egyptian art. Born into an aristocratic Alexandrian family, Mahmoud Said was an unlikely artist. He was the son of Mohammed Pasha Said, who was Egypt's Prime Minister during the reign of King Faud I, he later became uncle to Queen Farida, the first wife of King Farouk. Throughout his lifetime Said existed in the Milieu of the Egyptian gentry, a subject matter wholly rejected in his artworks, reflecting a sincere desire to divert his artistic gaze towards the land of Egypt and of common Egyptians, a stark contrast to the Euro-centric aristocracy which surrounded him.

    Originally destined for a legal career, Mahmoud Said graduated from the French School of Law in 1919. He worked as a lawyer, prosecutor, and then as judge in Mansouria, Alexandria and Cairo. He resigned from legal work in 1947, to dedicate himself solely to his art.

    Mahmoud Said was taught by the Italian artist, Amelia Casonato Daforno, a resident of Alexandria who had studied at the Florence Academy. Said quickly learnt the classical methods of drawing faces, harmonization of colours and shading. He took further lessons by with another Florentine artist Artoro Zananeri, before leaving for Paris in 1920 for further study.

    Mahmoud Said's crowning achievement was the application of a distinctly European aesthetic to strictly Egyptian and Nationalistic subject matters. Said participated in international exhibitions in Venice, Madrid and Alexandria. He staged exhibitions in New York, Paris, Rome, Moscow, Alexandria and Cairo. He was admitted to the French Legion d'honneur, winning a medal for Honorary Merit in 1951, and in 1960 was the first artist to be awarded the State Merit Award for Arts by Egyptian President Gamal Abdul-Nasser.

    During the peak of Mahmoud Said's career, Alexandria was a cosmopolitan city rife with a vibrant cultural milleu, the Greeks in particular formed one of the most prominent minorities in Alexnadria, once numbereing some 150,000. Traders, businessmen, philanthropists and artists moved among the cosmopolitan society of Alexandria. Their legacy is still to be seen today, not only in their historical influence, their writings, teachings and their influence on the society of Egypt and Greece, but also in the structures which they designed and built - hospitals, churches, schools, public buildings and mansions.

    With the establishment of the new sovereign regime of Gamal Abdel Nasser, rise of Pan-Arab nationalism, and the subsequent nationalisation of many industries in 1961 and 1963, thousands of Greek employees decided to abandon the country. Many Greek schools, churches, small communities and institutions subsequently closed, but many continue to function to this day. The Nasser regime saw a big exodus of the Greeks from Egypt, but most of the minority left the country either before or after the period 1952-1970. The Arab-Israeli wars of 1956 and 1967 contributed to the uprooting of the sizeable Greek community in the Suez Canal cities, especially Port Said.

    The present work was originally presented as a gift from Mahmoud Said to Jean Nicolaides. Jean Nicolaides was a prominent member in Alexandrian artistic circles, being a well known local architect and a long tiem friend of Mahmoud Said. Their friendship is testament to a period of Egyptian, and specifically Alexandrian history, which saw openness, cultural exchange, and multi-cultural co-existence as its key characteristics

    Mahmoud Said held profound admiration for early Dutch painting and specifically the works of the Flemish Primitives and Dutch realists, an influence which is both artistically and conceptually articulated in his works. In their ground-breaking movement away from the high flown, court and religious art of the renaissance, the "genre painters" of the Dutch Golden Age completely subverted the values of classical artistic tradition, choosing to portray ordinary scenes of everyday life and place the common man as the locus of their works.

    The same conceptual shift is evident in Said's oeuvre, and in many ways writ large in his life trajectory; the movement towards a vernacular, humanized art-form marked not only an artistic shift for Said, but a shift from his own aristocratic milieu. What we see in L'Ile Hereuse is the apotheosis of Said's ultimate artistic agenda: which was his ache for capturing the innefible nobility of the common Egyptian.

    What we encounter in Lissle heruseu is exmaplary of Said's perpetual interest in penetrating the human landscape of every day Egypt: unveiling the "noble suffering" of the peasants and farmers upon whose backs the glory and survival of Egypt rested.

    In his emotive renditions, Said' goes further than the strictly "realist" depictions of the Dutch Masters. An almost surreal, metaphysical air surrounds his vibrant composition, with its exuberant, larger than life date trees, its skewed sense of scale, and the surreal and improbable topology of the isle on which the figures rest

    Characterized by an atmosphere of nostalgia and longing, in Said's depiction we get a stylized, purified symbol of the beauty and dignity of Egypt and its people. Well documented, widely exhibited, and with a provenance that testifies to its brilliance, Lisle heruse survives as one of the most elegant and iconic examples of Mahmoud Said's work.

Saleroom notices

  • This work will be included in the forthcoming Catalogue raisonné, currently being prepared by Dr. Hussam Rashwan and Valérie Didier Hess, and its authenticity has been confirmed by the above-mentioned
Mahmoud Said (Egypt, 1897-1964) L'île Heureuse
Mahmoud Said (Egypt, 1897-1964) L'île Heureuse
Mahmoud Said (Egypt, 1897-1964) L'île Heureuse
Mahmoud Said (Egypt, 1897-1964) L'île Heureuse
Mahmoud Said (Egypt, 1897-1964) L'île Heureuse
Mahmoud Said (Egypt, 1897-1964) L'île Heureuse
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