Property from a Prestigious Private Collection, Egypt
APRÈS LA PLUIE (AFTER THE RAIN)
signed and dated M.Said; signed, titled and dated 1936 on the reverse
oil on canvas
75 by 57.5cm.; 29½ by 22⅝in.
This work is included in the Mahmoud Said Catalogue Raisonée, Milan 2016.
The work is in good condition. The canvas is slacking with some surface undulations due to age hence the work would benefit from restretching and a light clean. There are 2 minor lines of stable cross cracks on upper left with minor spots of paint loss on top right, top right edge, centre left and lower left. There is some very light craquelure in the upper right. There is no restoration apparent when viewed under the UV light.
The catalogue illustration is very accurate; although the overall tonality along the top edge and skyline tends towards slightly darker hues in the original work.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue. NOTWITHSTANDING THIS REPORT OR ANY DISCUSSIONS CONCERNING A LOT, ALL LOTS ARE OFFERED AND SOLD AS IS" IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE CONDITIONS OF BUSINESS PRINTED IN THE SALE CATALOGUE.
Collection of the artist, Alexandria
Collection of Amina Niazi, Alexandria (gifted directly by the above)
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 2004
Eswat Dawastashy, Mahmoud Said, Cairo 1997, p. 167 (incorrectly titled House of Mahmoud Bey Said), illustrated in colour
Valerié Didier Hess and Dr. Hussam Rashwan, Mahmoud Said Catalogue Raisonée, Vol.1; Paintings, Milan, 2016, no. P171, p. 369, illustrated in colour
Mahmoud Said is a master: beyond nation, beyond movement and untethered from dated conceptions of the art historical canon. While living, and unquestionably, posthumously, Said’s work and his oeuvre in its entirety, is one that does not need to rely on the additional bolstering that comes from an art critique laden with aggrandizing positive platitudes – which, it seems, sometimes comes with a subliminal fight for external validation and acknowledgement. His oeuvre challenges our understanding of a linear understanding of art history and its development. Mahmoud Said’s work has the unparalleled ability to enchant and entice his audience and romanticise his Egyptian subjects in a characteristically whimsical and dream-like fashion.
An erudite, travelled artist with a voracious yet discerning appreciation of and interest in European art movements, Mahmoud Said’s genius is in bringing all these elements into a cohesive and harmonious visual narrative. Most importantly, he does this while remaining anchored in an authentic understanding of Egypt: its hopes and struggles. Seen as the founder of modern Egyptian art during a time of intellectual renaissance in the country (referred to as al-Nahda in Arabic), his oeuvre is one that manages to capture an Egyptian spirit that was longing to be expressed and actualized.
Over the last decade within which Mahmoud Said’s works have entered the visible international arena, they have proven their absolute strength of standing. His paintings will forever remain as exquisite and significant, not only within context of Modern Egyptian art, Modern Arab Art or modern art from the wider Middle Eastern region, but also global modern art.
Sotheby’s is proud to offer Après la Pluie, a masterpiece landscape painting by Mahmoud Said. Painted in 1936, at a time where Said moved towards his best and most accomplished, conceptually robust and aesthetically refined period, this painting is undoubtably the most impressive of his landscapes that has come to market to date.
Après la Pluie is a scene of the sleepy countryside village where Said began to develop his oeuvre. Painted in 1936, the year that marked the end of Said’s academic period and was artistically, the beginning of his Amarna Period – a style that embodied Ancient Egypt and was specifically adopted during and just after the Akhenataem period. This same countryside also becomes the ever-present background to all Amarna Period paintings. The Amarna Period was also when he painted his 1937, world-record breaking Adam and Eve (sold at Sotheby’s in London, April 2018).
Mahmoud Said’s oeuvre can perhaps most simply be described as a dialogue between the European history of art and an organically developing, modern Egyptian ethos. He had an ability to capture the complexities of light stylistically in a way that gave all his paintings an otherworldly, soft dreamlike haze. This translated conceptually as well, through the nobility and grace he portrayed in his portraits of peasants or the simple villages and daily scenes of his native country – all of his paintings were able to capture a visceral Egyptian essence with an almost magical wonder.
Several recurring motifs appear in Said’s paintings over the years: most obviously the Nile, but also ripened palm trees, one of which features prominently in this work. Painted with a similar aesthetic to the four framing his Adam and Eve, the singularity of the date tree in the current piece is more impactful compositionally. His paintings often employed the use of allegory to add further layers to the reading and messaging of his work. The depth and mastery of Said’s colour palette and deft ability to capture light are beautifully shown in this painting. The canvas in its entirety is dark and light at once. Said is able to illustrate the depth of a sky as it is after rain: clouds loom but there is hope of light and promise of sun. This is mirrored in the lightness of the characteristically sandy-coloured buildings in Egyptian landscapes, made all the more luminous by the contrasting shadowing of his architectural angles in the central building. The prowess shown in the light play on architecture here is a gentle nod to Said’s fascination and indeed, fixation on the study of architecture in painting. Furthermore, allusions of quiet, distant oases are encouraged with his clever application of perspective – viewers, observers, indeed ‘wanderers’ remain at a distance, looking in and over into the walled in oasis like town. At the bottom of the canvas, the deep, darkness of the wall’s shadow is offset by its surrounding, trees and vegetation – with its controlled flecks of pink paint, hinting at a post rain flowering.
English painter, George Lambert (1700-1765) produced many topographical canvases that captured the effects of weather and its subsequent effects on the lighting of the English countryside. Moorland Landscape with Rainstorm (1751) from the collection of Tate Britain, London is a traditional bucolic scene. Its strength lies in the contrast of light and dark and serves as an interesting visual comparison to Said’s interpretation of landscape and weather’s effect on its lighting. We can see the difference in their illustration of clouds but their similar use of exaggerated shadow is apparent.
That said, a particular comparison to the skies in both works is significant. Important landscape paintings must acknowledge and consider weather for its effect on lighting and land but also for what that means for a depiction of the sky. Whether it is in the background or foreground, skies open and close, are bright or dark: literally and conceptually. They carry meaning or display the artistic abilities or particular hand of an artist. In Said’s studies of Western Old Masters, it is very likely that he saw paintings much like Lambert’s and that its influence worked its way into the fold. In this way, we assume with confidence that Said was intentional and considered in the way he chose to depict the sky in Après la Pluie.
Unlike the dark palette (which can perhaps even be described as, characteristically English and similar to the dark grey, hazy hues of Turner’s landscapes or cities after rain) Said’s paintings so often maintain references to the Nile, sea or bodies of water. His famous use of an almost characteristically 'Said cobalt blue' with hints of turquoise and deeper darker shades, are present in both the walled in pool of water, and in the sections of the vibrant sky that opens to us between the rain clouds. Unlike in England, Egypt could glow from a sun that was more present.
The influence of Western masterpieces during Said's European travels in the 1920s is significant – of the Venetian painters he says:
“The Venetian masters that I saw every year in Venice did not affect me much. However, there are two exceptions, Giovanni Bellini and Carpaccio…I have always been influenced by the great Venetian masters' chromatic symphony…” (Valerié Didier Hess and Dr. Hussam Rashwan, Mahmoud Said Catalogue Raisonée, Vol.1; Paintings, Milan 2016, p. 121)
Elizabeth Miller in her research suggests that the compositional and architectural elements of these Venetian artists have been quoted in several works by Mahmoud Said (ibid, p. 126).
Previously attributed to the school of Giovanni Bellini, The Venetian Ambassador's Interview in an Oriental City or, The Reception of Domenico Trevisani in Cairo (1512, oil on panel) is a stunning 16th century vision of a scene that may not be too far from Said’s, albeit, over 400 years earlier.
In the 16th century, the first two decades of the Italian School have been defined as elevating the conception of a High Renaissance style through achieving ‘harmonious balance.’ This was perfected in Florence and Rome by Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael and Michelangelo who were able to blend form and meaning. However, in Venice, Bellini, Titian and Giorgione, were dedicated to a more sensual aesthetic: with luminous colour and a tactile handling of paint.
In a 1927 letter to French artist Pierre Beppi-Martin who lived in Egypt, we can read of the reverence Said held for Venetian painters:
“their vision of things, the unforgettable charm of their landscapes where the eye loses itself in an unending enchantment, the vibrant rhythm of the ground, of the sky, of the architecture, were for me the subject of long daydreams” (ibid, p. 126).
Stylistic comparisons could also be drawn with Impressionism, in their landscapes and more loosely controlled brushwork and colour palette – a nod to Cezanne, perhaps most obviously, though we may describe him as post-Impressionist in his more cubist landscapes. However, Said’s focus on this movement can be described as fleeting but not unacknowledged. He described in his various correspondences that he was more taken by the Renaissance Masters:
“I directed my research towards that which contained tone of colour. Garish lighting effects, so called ‘plein-air’ effects left me cold. I found them dark and grey compared to the real luminosity of some of the landscapes of Cima da Conegliano or Giovanni Bellini, painted in their workshop with the science of sacrifice” (ibid p. 132).
Said’s brief experience with Impressionism came earlier in his artistic career in the early 1920s. Although, the use of thick broad brushstrokes and small flecks of light are indeed present in Après la Pluie, a testament to the voracity of Said’s artistic vision, and his ability to tie in various styles and periods into a style that was uniquely his own. His oeuvre is one that did not ‘leave’ artistic influences entirely in the past or isolated from each other. In this way, his approach to painting was more intuitive than it was ‘adamant.’ Perhaps we may say of this work, that he somehow dilutes traces of Impressionist techniques with the classicism and compositional structure of the (Flemish) Primitives and Renaissance masters. That classic architecture trumped plein-air to Said, is unquestionable – it was geometrical structure rather than the Impressionist’s airiness that he favoured.
Said’s work however holds folkloric lyricism not seen in paintings from the Italian School. This visual lyricism or intrinsic luminosity is perhaps better compared with the work of Wassily Kandinsky’s (1866-1944) oeuvre, in his period before abstraction during 1901-11. Kandisky articulated: “The deeper the blue becomes, the more strongly it calls man towards the infinite, awakening in him a desire for the pure and, finally, for the supernatural... The brighter it becomes, the more it loses its sound, until it turns into silent stillness and becomes white.”
Similarly, Kandinsky was known for his application of blue in many of his paintings from this period, as seen in Landscape with Rain (1913). Highlights of this same cobalt blue appear in his 1905 work, Arab City (from the collection of the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris). Kandinsky’s Composition IV (1911) is a semi-abstract landscape that alludes to the fanciful glow that paints cities following a rainstorm. Similar to the allusion Said paints in Après la Pluie of a house born anew in the afterglow from the cleansing waters of the rain.
French/Russian artist Kandinsky’s work drew on recollections of his native Russia. His vibrantly coloured canvases were born from memories of brightly coloured furniture and votive paintings observed in homes of peasants. His early work from this time was also imbued with romantic historicism, lyrical poetry and folklore – in ways not dissimilar to Said’s conflation of styles and reference to shared cultural memory. Kandinsky’s use of flattened, blocks of colour in his landscapes came from his early printmaking work and was very much like Said’s landscapes (particularly in the 1940s). Said’s visual language at this time is described as being predominated by ‘blocks of bright colours’, which reached its apex of abstraction in many of his scenes of the Nile in Aswan, again the move to pure abstraction a similar to the development of Kandinsky’s artistic trajectory. However, in Said’s case, it was an exploration rather than an ultimate evolution.
Regarded as the Founder of Modern Egyptian Art at a time of intellectual Renaissance (al-Nahda, in Arabic) in Egypt, Mahmoud Said was not predestined to become an artist. He was born into an aristocratic Alexandrian family and was the son of Mohammed Pasha Said, Egypt’s Prime Minister during the reign of King Fuad I. Trained in law to his father’s wishes, Said worked in the Mixed Courts in Alexandria until 1947, when he decided to resign from his post and dedicate himself fully to his true passion for art. During his frequent travels to Europe, mainly Italy, France, Spain and the Netherlands, Said was exposed to the works of the Old Masters and a wide repertoire of Western aesthetics from which he freely drew throughout his artistic career. Alongside his travels, he also attended courses at the prestigious Académie Julien and the Grande Chaumière in Paris and frequented the studios of foreign artists living in Alexandria. Said soon established himself as a pioneer of Egyptian art. He organised exhibitions in Cairo, Alexandria, New York, Paris and Rome and participated in international exhibitions in Alexandria, Venice and Madrid. In 1951, he was admitted to the French Legion d'honneur, winning a medal for Honorary Merit and in 1960, he was the first artist to be awarded the State Merit Award for Arts by Egyptian President Gamal Abdul-Nasser.
Après la Pluie was painted in the late 1930s at a time of increasing discontent for the British backed Egyptian kingdom, and so the country harboured nationalist sentiment and hopes for independence. Although this only actualized just under twenty years later in the coup of 1952, Said’s mastery of paint and adroit manipulation of lighting serves to translate visually, a national psyche that was tired but hopeful. It is a painting that is wistful and idyllic and succeeds in elucidating an overarching harmony.
While Said did hold some ideological defiance to colonialism, this did not necessarily extend to a defiance of Orientalist tropes and the 19th century painters/Orientalists. Although the Orientalists by definition, were other-ising and exoticising the region (with all the sociopolitical ramifications this brought with it) what this genre of painting does make indisputable is that it was an impossibly beautiful region in its visual and culture richness.
"The Orient was the most frequent of my dreams." Jean-Léon Gérôme said to his friend Charles Timbal in 1878.
Jean-Léon Gérôme painted in a style now known as Academicism, which included Orientalism and is arguably one of the most important Orientalist painters.
Gérôme first visited Egypt in 1856, which heralded the beginning of many Orientalist paintings. These most typically featured ‘Arab religion’, genre scenes and North African landscapes. Gérôme was known for his astute, almost photographic accuracy, both of architecture and landscapes. The majority of his important oil paintings were created, en plein air, during his desert sojourns. He paid particular attention to nature scenes for their backgrounds, producing many oil studies as a result. It can be said that his paintings from Egypt played a large part in enhancing his reputation as a painting through a Salon exhibition in 1857.
Orientalist painting, in a way, was a prelude to modernisation in Egypt – in spite of the exotification of the art that was produced, which visually kept ‘the Orient’ firmly anchored in the past. In the late 1800s, Egypt was in actuality, a fast-changing country with railway development and international shipping via the Suez Canal. In 1869, Gérôme had been sent to Egypt as part of the French delegation for the inauguration of the Suez Canal. These significant sociopolitical developments in Egypt unsurprisingly found their way visually into Said’s oeuvre, perhaps most clearly in the painting Inauguration du Canal de Suez, painted in 1946-7.
Sotheby’s is honored to be presenting Après la Pluie by the Egyptian modernist master Mahmoud Said. The painting shows Said’s development as a mature artist with his own aesthetic and a departure from his early academic works. The present work also demonstrates his deft command of colour. The internal light that emanates from the house simultaneously illuminates the entire composition and lends the latter a surreal, nostalgic and even mystical air that bathes the entirety of the canvas.