Mokhtar moved to Cairo from the countryside in 1902 and was amongst the first to enroll in the city’s new School of Fine Arts six years later. 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 the 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.
The present work Al Amira (The Princess) is the first marble sculpture to appear by Mahmoud Mokhtar at public auction. Formerly part of the collection of Osman Moharram Pasha (1881-1958), who was a prominent member of the Wafd Party, he was also appointed several times as the Minister of Public Works in several cabinets headed by Prime Minister Mustafa el-Nahhas Pasha prior to the 1952 revolution. A prominent engineer and one of the pioneers of the industry in Egypt, Osman Moharram Pasha, was responsible for the development and expansion of the main roads of Cairo in 1926. He famously, vacated the area around the Ibn Tulun mosque to allow for the preservation of the mosque’s architecture.
Unlike the typical peasant woman, fellaha, which is the ubiquitous character of Mokhtar’s oeuvre, Al Amira, is a rare example of Mokhtar’s depiction of the Egyptian aristocracy of the 1920s. Fashioned in an Art Deco style, Al Amira, which translates as The Princess in English, could very well have been an homage to Mokhtar’s great patron – Huda Sha’arawi. She was one of the founding members of the Friends of Mokhtar Foundation and spearheaded the initiative to house Mokhtar’s statues in a museum dedicated to his artistic career. She famously said, at the first commemoration of his death on 27 of March 1935 “probably the sun has risen on this new art above the statue Nahdet Masr (Egypt Awakening), and we said to ourselves, that this might be the first stone Mokhtar has placed to erect a glorious Egypt anew, and we wouldn’t have wished for the untimely death, which took from us the great Mokhtar.” (Badr Eldin Abou Ghazi, The Sculptor: Mokhtar, Cairo, 1964, p. 229)
Al Amira, is an exquisite and rare example of Mokhtar’s work. Another example of this statue can be found at the Mokhtar Museum in Cairo. Her frontal pose and stylised visage and folds of the drapery are reminiscent of the landed aristocracy. Despite its Art Deco panache, Mokhtar provides us with a glimpse of history of Egypt that has long disappeared. Sotheby’s is honoured for being entrusted to sell this iconic Mokhtar sculpture, the first of its kind. This is without a doubt one of the most elegant sculptures created by the father of modern Egyptian sculpture.
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