Lot 24
  • 24

Gazbia Sirry

60,000 - 80,000 GBP
81,250 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Gazbia Sirry
  • The Garden 
  • signed and dated Gazbia '59; signed and dated in Arabic 
  • oil on canvas


Zamalek Gallery, Cairo
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 2005


Cairo, Zamalek Gallery, Egyptian Artists; Masterpieces III, 2005

Catalogue Note

“I have a sensual relationship with colour, when I enter a paint shop, I want to swallow everything!” Gazbia Sirry’s relationship with colour is one of adoration yet mastered control. Just like an alchemist, Sirry breathes life into her palette in a distinctly lyrical manner—each canvas with its own cantor and rhythm. Sirry’s artistic approach stems from her appeal to local artisan culture in her native country of Egypt. Sirry’s figurative works discuss topics of concern during mid-20th century Egypt, from changing family structures and women’s roles to issues of class. Although her paintings have graced a range of prestigious international exhibitions and collections, the spirit of her work remains inextricably linked to the Egyptian culture, people and heritage.

Gazbia Sirry was born in 1925 in Cairo, Egypt to a widowed mother.  At a young age she expressed superb talent in the arts and her mother enrolled her at an art school. In Egypt at this time, women's education lacked societal support and her mother often had to hide the truth of Sirry’s schooling from prying neighbours and friends. She later graduated from the High Institute for Fine Arts in Cairo in 1950 and received a government scholarship to study with Marcel Gromaire in Paris that year. When she returned to Cairo, it was clear that Sirry was particularly attune to women’s influence in the new Egyptian Republic. In part spurred by her own mother’s resilience during the tumultuous time in the Egyptian history, she often depicts compositions featuring strong, demanding female figures and Sirry frequently emphasizes intergenerational spaces of feminine conviviality.

In this stunning large-scale painting, The Garden, Sirry tells a melodious bildungsroman tale, built on the robust pillars of female communities. Reflecting on notions of weaving and patchwork, the painting is a collage of every-day scenes. As one pans over the illustrious composition, one can see the numerous vignettes enclosed in the naive shapes. Each depicts various stages of collective and personal growth: from the bashful girls on the bench to the grey-haired woman gazing out at the viewer in pensive reflection. Sirry uses her bold black strokes to set boundaries for her characters, sealing her figures within sisterly bonds. Characteristic of the expressionist genre, she reduces form to symbols on a canvas to make an orchestral final product.

Sirry is a pioneering Egyptian artist and galvanised her talent as a visual articulation of social and political change in modern Egyptian and Arab history. Sirry worked prolifically during the years of Gamel Abdel Nasser which was a moment of pride for many Egyptian nationals. However, for Sirry, this moment had a tinge of discontent, having been imprisoned for three days for alleged Communist activity. Undeterred, Sirry’s hope for the imagined community of modern Egypt persisted, most evidently displayed in her vivacious figurative works during the 1950s and 1960s. Sirry’s work had a shift in 1967, taking a hiatus from painting after the Arab-Israeli War and returning to practice in a markedly different abstract style.

Sirry continues making art to this day, still rendering the ethos of modern Egypt in bold, enlivened colour. She remains among the most celebrated and important artists of her time and this exceptional painting, The Garden is a demonstration of her potent cultural message and her unmatched proclivity for hope.