Mahmoud Said (Egypt, 1897-1964) Fille à l'imprimé (Girl in a Printed Dress)

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Lot 8*
Mahmoud Said
(Egypt, 1897-1964)
Fille à l'imprimé (Girl in a Printed Dress)

Sold for £ 512,750 (US$ 705,321) inc. premium
Mahmoud Said (Egypt, 1897-1964)
Fille à l'imprimé (Girl in a Printed Dress)
oil on canvas, framed
signed "M. Said" and dated "1938" (lower right), inscribed "MAHMOUD SAID FELLAHA AU VOILE NOIR" (crossed out) and titled "FILLE À L'IMPRIMÉ 1938" on the verso, executed in 1938
81 x 56cm (31 7/8 x 22 1/16in).


  • Provenance:
    Property from the collection of May Zeid and Adel Youssry Khedr, Cairo
    Acquired directly from Nazli Fayed (the artist's cousin) by the present owner
    Hussein Pasha Sirry (Former Prime Minister of Egypt), Cairo by 1951 until at least 1960

    Valerie Didier Hess and Hussam Rashwan, Mahmoud Said: Catalogue raisonne Volume 1, Paintings, Skira Editore, 2016, illustrated on page 399
    Rassem, 1940, illustrated on page 134; Dawastashy, 1997b, no. 130 and 154
    El-Bissy, 2004 illustrated on page 80
    Al-Shafei, 2012, fig 123

    Cairo, 1939 (not illustrated. titled: La fellaha au voile noir)
    Guezireh, 1951, no.6 (not illustrated)
    Alexandria, 1960, no.29 (not illustrated, titled: Fille a la robe imprimee) Alexandria, 1964 (not numbered, illustrated, unpaged, titled: Nabawia a l'imprime and incorrectly dated 1939)

    J. Moscatelli in his review of the XIXeme Salon du Caire, in Images, May 1939 notes: "c'est La Fellaha au voile noir qui s'impose comme une oeuvre maitresse, comme le plus beau tableau du Salon. En plus de l'expression du visage bien mahmoudsaidienne, il y a dans la robe noire, fleurie et transparente, un morceau pictural d'une seduction profonde dont on ne peut echapper.."..trans.."Fille à l'imprimé... the noble peasant girl (fellaha) in the black robe imposes itself on the viewer like a true masterpiece. The most beautiful artwork in the Salon; she bears the quintessential gaze of a Mahmoud Said, and in her black translucent floral robe, she is the epitome of a profound and inescapable seduction" – Jean Moscatelli, 1939

    "Mahmoud Said has reinvented an Egypt that is golden skinned, sensual, and sumptuous, a thinking Egypt with its delectable, appealing peasants, all looking for the "Happy Isle", which in Said's world was the lost glorious past of Egypt's golden age' -Gabriel Boctor

    "Said's women are the queens in his kingdom, inspired by the depths of human imagination and the eternal image of instinct. [....] Said's women are neither as tender as Botticelli's, nor as restful as Ingres nor as daydreaming as Raphael's. [......] They are strong willed and defiant creatures, with the blood of life running through their veins. Said's muses are not as guilty as Masaccio's Eve: they proudly exhibit their human, earthly nature" – Amal Nasr


    Bonhams have the rare privilege of presenting one of the most iconic and moving works by the doyen of Egyptian art, Mahmoud Said, ever to come to the market. Poignant, enigmatic and graceful, Fille à l'imprimé is the archetypal synthesis of Said's inimitable portraits of the noble Egyptian rural peasant or fellaha and is specifically identified by leading art critics of the time as a seminal masterpiece within his oeuvre.

    Said'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), Fille à l'imprimé 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.

    The present work comes to market with a distinguished provenance; originally in the collection of Hussein Pasha Sirry, a three-time Egyptian Prime Minister under King Farouk, the painting was exhibited no less than four times during the artist's lifetime, most importantly at the 21'st Salon du Caire in 1939 where it was described by Jean Moscatelli as a "masterpiece".

    Never before presented at auction, Fille à l'imprimé is an extremely rare example of a major portrait coming to market. With the majority of Said's work held by institutions or in permanent collections, the current sale presents collectors with one of the few remaining opportunities to acquire a pivotal work by the artist.

    "A mysterious expression is seen on the face of Fille à l'imprimé, as if she is in deep thought, or in a sad mood or perhaps she is smiling timidly ... so enigmatic. It may be argued that she is as enigmatic as Da Vinci's Mona Lisa. Perhaps the model is expressing that famous Oriental Mystery in contradiction to the Occidental mystery of the Mona Lisa" – Dr Youssef Kamel

    The composition is permeated by a sense of mystery which is most palpable in the sitter's inscrutable gaze. Reflective, demure, and exuding a paradoxical melange of melancholy balanced with a subtle sense of seduction - the sitter can be interpreted equally as a weary, sombre figure as she can a subtle temptress, with shapely voluptuous lips, casting a coy but seductive gaze at her viewer. In its ambiguity and indistinctness of expression, its mystery perhaps echoes that of the greatest portrait ever depicted, Da Vinci's magnum opus, the Mona Lisa.

    Resting on a large amphora, the fellaha proudly displays the tool of her trade, the vessel which is not only the source of her toil and hardship, but the key to her family's sustenance, used as it is for carrying water. In the distant background, Said's standing figure seems almost to serve the viewer with a vignette of the fellaha's life, engaged as she is in the arduous task of bearing the vessel upon her head in her quest to nourish her family.

    A dark, almost surreal air envelops the backdrop; gloomy and desolate, the landscape is a visual metaphor for the fellaha's hardship; yet, in stark contrast to this sullen setting, the figures colourful embellished robe with its vivid flowers stands out as a symbol not only of her dignity but her ultimate triumph over the adversities of her existence

    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 Fille à l'imprimé is the apotheosis of Said's artistic agenda: which was his ache for capturing the ineffable nobility of the common Egyptian.

    Characterized by an atmosphere of nostalgia and longing, in Said's depiction we get a 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, Fille à l'imprimé survives as one of the most elegant and iconic examples of Mahmoud Said's work.


    "Mahmoud Said personalized and raised the worthiness of the Egyptian woman. She is the great granddaughter of Nefertiti, the peasant who works hard in the field, the maid who serves in a aristocratic home, the labourer who pulls water from the Nile. One ponders whether her beauty is the interpretation of his imagination or the plain revelation of her aspirations" – Fatenn Mostafa Kanafani

    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.
Mahmoud Said (Egypt, 1897-1964) Fille à l'imprimé (Girl in a Printed Dress)
Mahmoud Said (Egypt, 1897-1964) Fille à l'imprimé (Girl in a Printed Dress)
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