Le Chômeur is a remarkable and rare painting considered by critics as a seminal masterpiece by Mahmoud Said, the most valuable Arab artist in the world. Exhibited at the Louvre and owned by renowned Egyptian actress and fashion icon Leila Shier, it comes to Bonhams Middle Eastern and Contemporary Art Sale in New Bond Street on 24 November. It is estimated at £350,000-500,000.
Said was an unlikely artist, born into an aristocratic family and spending much of his life existing in the upper echelons of Egyptian society. However, this was not reflected in his work; choosing rather to paint the everyday lives of the common Egyptian, a stark contrast to the euro-centric aristocracy which surrounded him. Despite having painted since he was a teenager Said’s main profession was as a Judge and Prosecutor; largely due to the pressures he felt from his social background. Throughout his legal career he remained prolific, yet it was not until the age of 50 that he retired to focus his attention solely on painting.
The romantic notion of the ‘Wise Vagabond’ has inspired portraiture in Western traditions for generations. Diego Velazquez, Goya and Édouard Manet all famously painted beggar philosophers and believed that those on the fringes of society possess a rare insight into the true nature of how it functions. Inspired by these greats, Mahmoud Said applied a distinctly European aesthetic to strictly Egyptian and Nationalistic subject matters, the combination of which has led him to be considered one of the central pillars of twentieth century Egyptian Art. It is extremely rare for any of Said’s work to be brought to auction as most of his pieces are held by institutions or in permanent collections.
Nima Sagharchi Bonhams Director of Middle East and Contemporary Art said: “Poignant, enigmatic and graceful, Le Chômeur is the archetypal synthesis of Said’s inimitable portraits of noble Egyptian peasants. Characterised by an atmosphere of nostalgia and longing, in Said’s depiction we get a purified symbol of the beauty and dignity of Egypt and its people. Well documented, widely exhibited, and with a provenance that testifies to its brilliance, Le Chômeur survives as one of the most elegant and important examples of Mahmoud Said’s work.”
Other Highlights Include:
- LA+LA+SAR by Charles Hossein Zenderoudi. Zenderoudi is one of Iran’s most accomplished modern artists, as a founding father of Iranian neo-traditionalism he is a master of blending traditional Persian motifs within a distinctly avant-garde aesthetic. His choice of subject matter, calligraphy, has historically been the most established mode of formal artistic expression prevalent in Iran. The present work also marks a conceptual shift away from the more overtly traditional subject matters and more towards a pure, patterned aesthetic which emphasises the meditative and visual elements of letter depiction over their linguistic connotations. Estimate: £120,000-180,000
- Two pieces from Egyptian Artist Omar El Nagdi- Nuit d’été (Estimate: £50,000-60,000) and Viol a Sarajevo (Estimate: £30,000 to £50,000). A prodigious pioneer in Egyptian art history, In the 1960s, Nagdi exhibited in Europe alongside the Western masters Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí. A multi-disciplinary artist, Nagdi worked with sculpture, oil, watercolour and mosaics. Inspired by the diverse cultures that he encountered in rural Egypt, he fused in his works the Pharaonic and Islamic iconography with Cairo’s urban culture idioms and Western aesthetics.
- On The Banks of the Nile by Mahmoud Mokhtar. Considered a pioneer of modern Egyptian art, Mokhtar also occupies a prominent place in the history of the modern Egyptian nation. Self-styled as the first Egyptian sculptor in over two millennia, he deftly blends Pharaonic imagery with a modern European sculptural aesthetic to create quintessentially nationalist Egyptian artwork. ??Tender and ennobling in its portrayal of the dignified Egyptian fellaha (or peasant woman), the sculpture is evidence of an artist who captured the true spirit of the age in his penetrative renderings of the Egyptians and their everyday plight. Estimate: £30,000- 40,000.
- House of Cards by Louay Kayyali. Kayyali is remembered as one of the most sought-after Arab artists of the Modernist era. “The Card Players” is a prime example of Kayyali’s mature period in which key characters from Syrian daily life merge to the forefront. These mesmerizing portraits condensing all minor detail articulate the softness and vulnerability of Kayyali’s subjects. Melancholy, resignation and solitude best characterise much of Kayyali’s work after the 1967 war and the sentiments of political failure in Syria and the Arab world in general. Estimate: £40,000- 60,000.