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 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.
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. This exquisite piece has a particulary beautiful story. The sculpture was bought upon the return of a French collector from Egypt, where she fell in deep admiration of the country and especially the immense history alongside the Nile River. Once she returned to Paris, she came across Mokthar's works and fell in love with the iconic representation of the Egyptian fellaha which reminded her of her trip to Egypt. It is then that she most probably acquired the sculpture at the Bernheim Jeune Galerie or Susse Foundry who were both selling the artist's work during that period. With its strong provenance and iconographic subject matter, the present work is a collector's item at its best.
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