Christie’s presents three sets of sketches from the pioneer Egyptian artist Mahmoud Saïd, depicting breath-taking and warm sun-lit Nile scenes. Saïd’s visual language was heavily influenced by his traveling throughout Upper Egypt in Kena and Aswan where these landscapes take place. Aswan was previously the city on Ancient Egypt’s southern border, opening up towards the Nile River, which was traditionally associated as the origin of life-giving.
In the first pair of works, Saïd uses his consistent style, in softer and impressionist brushstrokes with a subtle colour palette. Saïd’s daring approach to abstraction and the simplification of forms in these landscape scenes are depicted with flat areas of colour and a complementary palette of colour including blue hues and bright and ochre pigments. The feluccas are depicted in exacting detail gliding along the river, trailing behind its blue shadows, and throughout these compositions, Saïd depicts the skies and its smooth glassy refection in the river, making these visually stunning and complementary landscape scenes.
In the second pair, Saïd chooses to paint the natural elements of Upper Egypt, preserving these elements within geometrical blocs similar to Cezanne as seen in the palm trees and vegetation and the low-lying mountains native to the region. The mountain’s sinuous lines complement well with the felucca’s billowing sails. All elements exist in a harmonious balance; the slender clouds are reflective against the glassy river, and the richness of the light glorify these landscapes.
In the third pair of sketches, representing the most striking in form and composition, La fille à l’amphore stands out as the only portrait scene amidst the presented landscapes. While the woman is depicted in simplified forms and flatness of colour, the landscape scene, Felouques à Assouan, presents itself as one of the most visually stunning for its theatrical composition, its mise en scène is carefully placed with the palm trees and vegetation opening up into the felucca ship as the central focal point. Saïd was fascinated by the female figure, transforming the plebian Egyptian woman into a symbolic emblem of the human being facing the harshness of life. Depicted in exaggerated monumental proportions, the woman is shown towering over the viewer, her body overwhelmingly dominates the composition behind the landscape scene in the horizon. That same year, Saïd painted another very similar work of the same title, La fille à l’amphore, where he further experimented with its balanced colours and composition.
During this time Saïd was beginning to develop a mature artistic vision, through his studies in the early 1920s to France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, Spain and Italy. Acquainted with the Renaissance, Baroque, and Romantic masters, Saïd was particularly attracted to the Flemish Primitive artists for their tight compositions, precision of shapes and delicate and sober renderings of figures and colours. Much in the same way, he applied a Primitivist approach to his landscape studies while in Egypt using shading and light to clarify the form and used as a way “to renounce to form in favour of a spectacular orchestration of the figures and colours” (H. El Kayem, “Essay on Mahmoud Sai’d Oeuvre,” La Revue du Caire, no. 43, Cairo, June 1942, p. 112-117).