Mokhtar moved to Cairo from the countryside in 1902 and was amongst the first to enrol in the city’s new School of Fine Arts six years later. There he honed his skills as a sculptor under the tutelage of the Parisian professor Laplagne until a scholarship from the Egyptian prince Kamal Youssef enabled Mokhtar to continue his education at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. There he was introduced to the latest artistic styles and the political force of art that would characterise his work from then on. Perhaps the most significant meeting of Mokhtar’s Parisian sojourn was with political leader Saad Zaghloul. The sculptor joined forces with Zaghloul upon his return to Cairo and became part of the group of intellectuals and revolutionaries who established independence from Britain in 1922.
Au Bord du Nil represents the peasant woman, or fellaha, who was adopted as the emblem of Egypt’s revolutionary movement in the early 20th century. Much like the woman in Egypt Awakening she stands tall, poised to adjust her veil, revealing her feminine beauty whilst carrying out the menial but essential task of sourcing water from the river Nile. Her frontal pose and the stylised visage and folds of the drapery are reminiscent of statues of Egyptian queens, such as the statues of Hatshepsut flanking the entrance to her tomb at Deir-el-Bahari. As such the figure at once symbolises ancient and modern Egypt and the reinstatement of the woman at the centre of this land.
The life-size marble version of Au Bord du Nil now stands at the entrance of the Mokhtar Museum in Cairo. Mokhtar clearly coveted the composition as he sold the model to the famous Susse Frères Foundry in Paris which published limited editions in bronze in two sizes. A cast of the smaller size, 40cm, was sold at Sotheby’s London, 24 October 2007, lot 569 for £62,900, whilst another cast of the present, larger, size, which lacked its lacquer, was sold at Christie’s Dubai on 29 April 2009 for $104,500.
Badr El-Din Abu Ghazy, Mukhtar. The sculptor, Cairo, 1964; Badr El-Din Abu Ghazy, Mukhtar. His life and his art, Cairo, 1988; Liliane Karnouk, Modern Egyptian Art 1910-2003, Cairo, 2005; Rowan El Shimi, 'Celebrating Egyptian sculptor Mahmoud Mokhtar’s 120th birthday', Ahram Online, 10 May 2011
We would like to thank Dr. Emad El Din Aboughazi for his assistance with authenticating the present lot.
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