Mahmoud Said (Egypt, 1897-1964) Portrait de ma Soeur (Zeinab Said)

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Lot 12*
Mahmoud Said
(Egypt, 1897-1964)
Portrait de ma soeur (Zeinab Said)

Sold for £ 75,000 (US$ 97,416) inc. premium
Mahmoud Said (Egypt, 1897-1964)
Portrait de ma soeur (Zeinab Said)
oil on board, framed
signed, dated and inscribed "M. SAID CAIRE 1919" (lower right), executed in 1919
40 x 30cm (15 3/4 x 11 13/16in).


  • Provenance:
    Property from the collection of May Zeid and Adel Youssry Khedr, Cairo
    Property of the artist's collection until 1964;
    Acquired from the above by Dr Hassan El Khadem and Nadia Mahmoud Said (the artist's daughter), Alexandria, until at least 30 June 1976;
    Gihane Mirza, Alexandria;
    Khayria Rateb (the latter's daughter), Cairo;
    Acquired directly from Khayria Rateb by the present owner

    Valerie Didier Hess and Hussam Rashwan, Mahmoud Said: Catalogue raisonne Volume 1, Paintings, Skira Editore, 2016
    Abu Ghazi, 1972 (illustrated, unpaged); Al-Nabawi Al-Shal, 1982, plate 2 ( detail, unpaged, titled: The Artist's Sister)
    El-Gabakhangi, 1986, no. 2 (illustrated)
    Dawastashy, 1997b, no.7 (page 77 and iconp.296)
    Fakhry, 2004, p.171 (illustrated)
    Al-Shafei, 2012, fig. 5; Hess, 2013, page 89 (illustrated in colour, incorrectly dated 1920)

    "In 1919, I took my first attempt at painting, one that I cherish until this very day, for it was the reason I held on to art, firmly believing that I could not live for anything else"
    - Mahmoud Said

    "Mahmoud Said chose a methodology which he adhered to for a number of portraits he painted of his family and acquaintances. These paintings – despite their delicacy, lightning accuracy and truthfulness to features – nevertheless appear strange in nature. Said's faces look timeless and distant from material life, as though painted from pure colour"
    - Saad El Khadem

    "Zeinab Said, whom we called "Nina", was an incredible and unforgettable person – I have the impression that she lived more than a hundred years! She was always smiling and was a very calm person"
    - Mikhail-Shamel Orlov, great granddaughter of Zeinab Said


    Bonhams are delighted to present an exquisite and significant 1919 portrait by the father of Egyptian twentieth century art, Mahmoud Said. Depicting his beloved sister Zeinab. the present work is one of only a handful of works executed by the artist directly after 1918, when he had left the studio of Italian artist Arturo Zanieri who was a critical figure in fostering Said's early artistic education. It is only after leaving Zanieri's studio in 1919 that Said declares he took his "first attempt at painting"; the present work is amongst no more than five documented portraits executed in this period making it one of Mahmoud Said's first consummate works of art.

    Deeply personal, Said's early portraiture was his first foray into an artistic life which slowly dissuaded him from a career in the judiciary. Portraits of his close family and friends form the most significant works from this period, of which "Portrait de ma Soeur" is one of the most artistically unique and striking. Executed in tight, individually defined brushstrokes, the portrait clearly resembles the stylized and particular brushwork employed in early fauvist works by artists like Matisse and Derrain.

    For an artist in his early twenties with very little in way of formal training, Portrait de ma Soeur exhibits an absolutely remarkable painterly sophistication. The subject reclines in effortless grace, her eyes pensively glancing into a distance, in an almost indifferent disregard of the artistic plane. A tightly formed, stringently arranged facial rendition slowly gives way to looser, freer strokes, culminating in a spontaneous, flowing cloak where hair, garment and foreground blend in a torrent of colorful lyricism

    The artist's sister, Zeinab, who would go on to become the mother of Egypt's Queen Farida, was one of Said's four siblings, and is most likely depicted here in an imagined costume; the flamboyant Native American garb not only lends an exotic lilt to the composition but hints at the childhood games and fantasies popular amongst close siblings. The painting, filled as it is with childhood wonder and familial intimacy, makes it perhaps one of Mahmoud Said's most tender and loving early portraits.

    Mahmoud Said's body of work is considered as one of the 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.

Saleroom notices

  • Please note that the correct measurements are 48 x 32cm
Mahmoud Said (Egypt, 1897-1964) Portrait de ma Soeur (Zeinab Said)
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