Mahmoud Saïd (Egyptian, 1897-1964)
Mahmoud Saïd (Egyptian, 1897-1964)

La fille aux yeux verts (réplique)

Mahmoud Saïd (Egyptian, 1897-1964)
La fille aux yeux verts (réplique)
signed and dated ‘M.SAÏD 1932’ (upper right); signed, titled and dated ‘MAHMOUD SAÏD ‘LA FILLE AUX YEUX VERTS’ 1931 (Réplique) 1932’ (on the reverse)
oil on panel
17¼ x 207/8 in. (44 x 53 cm.)
Painted in 1932
Charles Terrasse, Paris, by 1936.
Grand Marché d’Avignon, France (titled: Tableau avec une gitane).
Mario Giovannini, Trieste, acquired from the above in 1998.
Anon. sale, Casa d’Aste, Trieste, 24 and 25 May 2007, lot 773.
Acquired from the above sale by the present owner.
La Semaine Égyptienne. Cahiers des peintres et sculpteurs de l’Égypte moderne, no. 1: Mahmoud Saïd, 31 January 1936, no. 80 (titled: La fille aux yeux verts [2ème version]).
V. Didier Hess & H. Rashwan (eds.), Mahmoud Saïd Catalogue Raisonné, Vol. I, Milan, 2016, no. P 133 (illustrated in colour p. 38 & p. 327)
Cairo, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Société des Amis de l’Art sous le Patronage de S.M. Le Roi, XIXème Salon du Caire, 1939 (listed; incorrectly titled: La fille au collier).

Lot Essay

Christie’s is delighted to re-offer La fille aux yeux verts (réplique), which was in fact never sold since it was mistakenly withdrawn from Christie’s Dubai October 2007 sale, exactly 10 years ago. The lack of documentation available on Mahmoud Saïd at the time, a general issue for most Modern Arab and Iranian Art, was the cause of the confusion between La fille aux yeux verts, painted in 1931 and La fille aux yeux verts (réplique), painted in 1932. The former is part of the Museum of Modern Art collections in Cairo, currently on loan to the Residence of the Permanent Representative of the Mission of Egypt to the United Nations in New York and the latter (the present lot) was originally in the collection of Charles Terrasse, the first director of the Museum of Modern Art in Cairo. The publication of the Mahmoud Saïd catalogue raisonné, launched on 15 March 2017, and the discovery of new archival material has removed all doubts with regards to authenticity and ownership of La fille aux yeux verts (réplique), as it is now very clear that Mahmoud Saïd painted two versions of the same subject, a girl with green eyes. The first version painted in 1931 is recorded as being part of the museum’s collection as early as 1935, whilst the second version was painted a year later and is clearly referenced as being a replica (‘réplique’) and as belonging to Charles Terrasse, as early as January 1936 in a special issue of La Semaine Égyptienne dedicated to Mahmoud Saïd.

The notion of a given artist painting an authentic replica of another artist’s work is a not uncommon in the history of art, and was in fact also considered as a learning method. For example, 17th century Flemish artist Peter-Paul Rubens (1577-1640) is known to have made replica works of his 16th century Italian peer Titian (1488-1576), of which The Worship of Venus or Adam and Eve are examples. Rubens painted Adam and Eve in 1628-1629 after seeing Titian’s original painted circa 1550 in Spain (both Rubens and Titian’s paintings are part of the Prado’s collections in Madrid), and realised a copy of Titian’s The Worship of Venus (painted in 1518-1519 and also housed in the Prado) in 1635, which is now on view in the National Museum of Art in Stockholm. Moreover, for an artist to produce a replica of a specific work in his own oeuvre, as is the case with Saïd’s La fille aux yeux verts, is also not a first in the history of art. Hyacinthe Rigaud (1659-1743), the most celebrated 17th-18th century portrait painter of the court of Versailles, painted the most iconic large scale portrait of Louis XIV in 1701. This painting was copied many times by followers having become the ‘Sun King’s’ official portrait in ceremonial dress, portrayed as an absolute ruler. Rigaud had originally been commissioned by Louis XIV to produce this painting of the king as a gift to Louis XIV’s grandson, the recently appointed King of Spain, Philip V. Louis XIV was so impressed by Rigaud’s portrait that he kept it for himself and commissioned him to do an exact replica to send it to the Spanish Court, as originally planned. In reality, both works remained in France, the first version being displayed today at the Louvre Museum in Paris whilst the authentic replica by Rigaud hangs in the halls of the palace of Versailles – both are distinctly signed ‘Peint par Hyacinthe Rigaud en 1701’ on the base of the column in the background of each painting.

Although the details are not known, the scenario of La fille aux yeux verts, is similar to that of Rigaud’s two identical portraits of Louis XIV. The identity of the woman with green eyes in Saïd’s two paintings is not known, yet it could be argued that Charles Terrasse, former director of the Museum of Modern Art in Cairo, saw Said’s first version of 1931, which was purchased by the museum, and loved it so much that he asked the painter to realise a replica for his own private collection in 1932 or the painter may have even gifted it to Terrasse. Although this case is quite uncommon in Saïd’s oeuvre, La fille aux yeux verts, is not an isolated case as the same situation occurred with another of Saïd’s masterpieces, Belles de Bahari, painted in 1935. The latter currently hangs in the office of the Minister of Foreign Aairs of Egypt in Cairo yet an authentic replica of that work, painted by Mahmoud Saïd and dated1948 was sold by Aziz Amad’s family through Safarkhan Gallery to a private collector in Cairo in the 1990s. An original letter (dated 11th August 199..) from Aziz Amad’s wife to Sherwet Shafei, founder of Safarkhan Gallery, sheds light on these two versions of Belles de Bahari. Marthe Amad talks about three Mahmoud Saïd paintings that were gifted to her and husband, amongst which ‘Les Belles de Bahari’ [that] is a replica which was executed by the painter in the name of their binding friendship following my husband’s request and persistence’ (translated from French).

Furthermore, Mahmoud Saïd, being a judge a the Mixed Courts, seems to have taken his precautions in ensuring that there would be no doubt with regards to the authenticity of his replicas, whether of La flle aux yeux verts or of Belles de Bahari: both are signed, dated and titled on the reverse, and the two titles are followed by ‘(réplique)’ as well as the execution date, preceded by the date at which the first original work was produced. In that respect, the details on the reverse of La fille aux yeux verts, read the following: “MAHMOUD SAÏD ‘LA FILLE AUX YEUX VERTS’ 1931 (Réplique) 1932”, whilst that of Belles de Bahari reads: “MAHMOUD SAÏD BELLES DE BAHARI 1935 (RÉPLIQUE) (1948)” – the artist could not have been clearer. Although they are replicas, there are a few minor variations between the original compositions and the replicas. This again is consistent with a common practice found in the oeuvres of many Old Masters, from Rubens’ different versions of the Descent from the Cross, to Cézanne’s repetitive interpretations of the Montagne Sainte-Victoire, and even Monet’s variations of his famed Japanese Bridge. The difference between these artists and Saïd lies in the purpose of these replicas, which was most often used as a learning curve and perfecting method, whereas Saïd was specifically asked to paint these replicas, and insists on that point by mentioning the word ‘(réplique)’ on the reverse, just like Rigaud had been commissioned to paint two identical portraits of Louis XIV and he ensured through his signature that it was clear that both were authentic works by his hand.

There is no doubt that the history and story around La fille aux yeux verts (réplique), have contributed to the work’s fame but its intriguing subject matter also makes it stand out within the Alexandrian master’s oeuvre. The early 1930s were marked by a series of family and friends’ portraits that Saïd produced, such as that of relative Dr Gawad Hamada (1931), twice of his sister Nahed [Saïd] Sirry (1932), fellow artist Charles Boeglin (1932). Yet it was also in those years that the ‘Mahmoudsaïdian’ woman appeared in the artist’s oeuvre, characterised by several signature features namely the almond-shaped eyes outlined by kohl, the voluptuous red lips, the golden complexion and the bulbous chest. La flle aux yeux verts (réplique) epitomises Saïd’s female character and by stripping her of her name to make her represent a more general woman as opposed to a specific person, she embodies the essence of Egyptian female beauty. Nonetheless, Saïd appears to blur several features of different ethnicities to create his own female character, as suggested by the auburn hair colour of the girl with the green eyes. This particularity is even more so obvious in Invitation au Voyage (1932), in which he depicts androgynous figures, or Baigneuses à la périssoire (1932) and even later in Belles de Bahari (1935), where the blond Western-like hair contrasts with the dark Egyptian facial features, bringing a sense of ambiguity, seductiveness and mystery to these femmes fatales.

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