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Details & Cataloguing

Contemporary Art / Arab & Iranian

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London

Abdel Hadi El-Gazzar
1925-1966
BEACH DREAM

This work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity signed by Kamal al Gouaylie, President of the Art Society of Egypt

Provenance

Collection of Dr Ali Massoud (commissioned by Dr Hussein Amin from the artist in 1957)
Thence by descent

Catalogue Note

This spectacular painting by Abdel Hadi El-Gazzar was commissioned by the highly influential Egyptian Professor of Fine Arts, Dr Hussein Amin, on the occasion of his wedding to Hanya Fawzy, daughter of the former Foreign Minister, Mahmoud Fawzy, in 1957.

Beach Dream is the largest Gazzar to be offered at public auction, and is rivalled in size only by a work hanging in the Museum of Modern Art, Cairo, The Digging of Suez Canal.

Hussein Amin was the most important figure on the arts scene in Egypt in the mid-twentieth century. He was a dedicated teacher and mentor, who encouraged artists from the poorest, least privileged of backgrounds, in his belief that such a grass-roots movement would lead to social transformation, Amin followed the development of his students like a devoted father, even to jail, in his impassioned defence of their art and polemics, for Egyptian art of the modern period was highly controversial, dealing with socio-political issues that went hard against the party line.

He has been described by the leading international authority on Egyptian art, Liliane Karnouk, as "a man of vast culture, acquired through extensive travel in Europe and in Brazil, where he lived for several years. After his return to Egypt in 1930, he began a successful career as a painter, a career which he abandoned to dedicate himself to teaching. All art historians agree that he was the man behind the spectacular development of Egyptian art which began in 1946 ... The true revolutionary impact of Amin's contribution was ... the product of a remarkable intuition. The images his students created ... would never have existed without his insight." (Liliane Karnouk, Modern Egyptian Art 1910-2003, Cairo 2005, p. 39)

Abdel Hadi El-Gazzar was one of Hussein Amin's protégés from his youth, so close were they that it was in defence of Gazzar's painting Folk Choir that Amin was arrested. The state took a dim view of a painting criticising the nation's poverty by depicting Egyptians of all social classes standing behind empty bowls, and it was only on account of Mahmoud Said with his royal connections that they were pardoned.

Amin initiated and mentored a group of artists known as the Group of Contemporary Art, eschewing the glamorous and cosmopolitan style of the generation before them, and encouraged by Amin with his singular ideas on art and social change, these artists looked to their Egyptian roots, drawing on folk art and tradition for their visual vocabulary.

El-Gazzar's childhood was steeped in religion and ritual, raised in Alexandria, then spending his adult years in Cairo, Gazzar provides a fascinating glimpse into the traditions, superstitions and magical beliefs of Egypt's poor.

As with most of the Group of Contemporary Art, Gazzar's paintings are composed of portentous symbols and insignia that have profound significance to those raised in Cairo's slums and back alleys, but which are incomprehensible to most Egyptians, let alone the western eye. Symbols are repeated over and over again in Gazzar's work, symbols such as the spider's web, the snake, the lizard, rat and fish, the bull, the key, playing cards, the hand-print, the horse and the shell to name but a few. Whatever the key to unlock this magical narrative is, it pales into insignificance in the face of the over-riding sense of tragedy and despondency that pervades Gazzar's work.

His works have been described as "a negation of Gauguin's luscious Pacific paradise. Instead they depict a sterile environment inhabited by people without joy or faith who exist in a state of lost innocence." (Liliane Karnouk, Modern Egyptian Art 1910-2003, Cairo 2005, p. 46)

Yet this is the most important factor in Beach Dream for it is such a complete departure from his usual work, and is set apart from the rest of his oeuvre by its celebration of life and love. For one brief moment, for the sake of his mentor and father figure Hussein Amin on his nephew's wedding day, Gazzar puts aside his fatalism, and creates a work that is more paradise than purgatory.

In this painting the shell recurs over and over again in different forms, littering the ground around the women's feet and most significantly cradling the only male figure in the scene. To Gazzar the shell was a symbol of the womb and procreation, a protective form that represented shelter. It also symbolised the source of life, drawing on both Greek mythology, with the birth of Aphrodite the goddess of love, and on Ancient Egyptian mythology whose creation myth begins with the waters of Nun. Both legends are of particular significance in their celebration of fecundity and feminine beauty in this instance.

The female figures that are painted here differ from his other sad, dour women, such a contrast to Mahmoud Said's luscious female forms, Gazzar's have shaggy hair, heavy shoulders and solid bodies. Here however he transforms his traditional style for the sake of his friend, populating his seashore with long haired beauties, as if recently washed up on the beach as Aphrodite was. The whole scene is reminiscent of the Homeric poem telling of the goddess's birth ~

Of august gold-wreathed and beautiful
Aphrodite I shall sing to whose domain
belong the battlements of all sea-loved
Cyprus where, blown by the moist breath
of Zephyros, she was carried over the waves
of the resounding sea on soft foam.
 

(An Homeric hymn published in Florence in 1488 by the Greek refugee Demetrios Chalcondyles) 

This incredibly rare, monumental work commissioned by the godfather of modern Egyptian art by one of its most important and celebrated artists, is arguably the most important modern Egyptian painting to come to public auction, and is undeniably of museum quality and pedigree.

Contemporary Art / Arab & Iranian

|
London