Global notice COVID-19 Important notice
Hamed Nada (Egyptian, 1924-1990)
‘This painter [Ramsès Younan], who finds his place in theavant-garde movement of Egyptian painting, derives his stylefrom the best Surrealist manner. The visitors who have notbeen warned will definitively be astonished by his landscapesand scenes deeply-rooted in his subconscious. We knowthis trend achieves its eects through the representation ofheteroclite objects that trigger associations of unexpectedideas. Ramsès Younan does not fail to adhere to theseprinciples. (…)Yet Ramsès Younan adds to it a very personal touch ofcolour. Those who like colour for the colour and not for thesubject that it colours, however bizarre it may be, will enjoythe harmonies of an unprecedented success in his paintings.Those who also seek dreamlike figures beyond the painting,will taste escapes and calm perspectives, yet arid behind thetormented and almost tragic foreground in Ramsès Younan’scompositions and drawings.’ “Etreinte”, “Tropique du Cancer”,amongst other works exhibited, catch one’s attention andinvite one to unravel the unconscious’.(Jean Moscatelli, ‘Les Expositions’, in Images, Cairo, n°814, 16th April 1945).
Ramsès Younan (Egyptian, 1913-1966)

La Passion Sauvage or La Passion Dévorante

Ramsès Younan (Egyptian, 1913-1966)
La Passion Sauvage or La Passion Dévorante
signed 'R.Y.' (lower right)
oil on panel
39 3/8 x 31½ in. (100 x 80cm.)
Painted in 1940
Private collection, Cairo.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
Exh. Cat., Exposition Ramsès Younan, Galerie des Beaux-Arts, Cairo, June 1963 (illustrated; dated 1940).
‘Une crise cardiaque surprend le peintre surréaliste’, in Al Ahram, Cairo, 25 December 1966 (illustrated ; titled in Arabic and translated as ‘The devouring passion’).
S. El-Sharouny, ‘La culture, la révolte et Ramsès Younan’, in El Mégala, Cairo, n°37, 1 February 1967 (illustrated).
M. Shafik, ‘Ramsès et la génération de la révolte’, in El Founoun, Cairo, n°2, 1 March 1971 (illustrated).
Y. Francis, ‘Les collections entre encouragements et estime’, in Al Ahram, Cairo, 20 August 1971 (illustrated).
S. El-Sharouny, ‘La culture, la révolte et Ramsès Younan: L’intellectuel révolté’, in El Doha, nos. 124 & 125, 1986.
S. El-Sharouny, L’intellectuel révolté, Cairo, 1992 (illustrated).
Cairo, Galerie des Beaux-Arts, 1963.
Sale Room Notice
Please note that this work is signed ‘R.Y.’ (lower right) and not as stated in the catalogue.

Lot Essay

When the author of the Dictionnaire général du surréalisme et de ses environs (1982), Edouard Jaguer, described Ramsès Younan, he wrote the following: “Most certainly the most interesting of all of them and the most tormented amongst Georges Henein’s friends who gathered around his periodical ‘La Part du Sable’.” He further quoted the artist who had declared in 1947, ‘I cling onto my madness with the smallest hope to conquer the world and to destroy the emptiness. I do not want ‘friends’ but rather accomplices involved in the same crime: pierce through emptiness, rape emptiness’. Younan was referring to the emptiness of History and of academia that he denounced as early as 1938 in his first critical and influential essay Aim of the Modern Artist, raising public awareness of Modern art. Alongside fellow artist, poet and critic Georges Henein, Younan became a founding member of the ‘Art and Freedom’ Society, whose motto ‘Long Live Degenerate Art’ was defined in their revolutionary manifesto published in December 1938. This antifascist organisation protested against the oppression of artistic expression in Nazi Germany, forming to some extent the Egyptian counterpart to the various Surrealist trends raging through Europe at the same time. Five ground-breaking exhibitions held by the group Art et Liberte took place in Cairo between 1940 and 1945, each causing more uproar than the other. In 1943, Younan assumed the role of editor of El Megalla el Jedida, an Egyptian revolutionary and artistic publication, upholding his status as a prominent writer and critic, but also as an anticonformist and Trotskyist denouncing British colonialism as well as Hitler and Stalin.

Painted in 1940, the same year the Art and Freedom’s group inaugural exhibition was launched on 8th February 1940 titled: Première Exposition de l’Art Indépendent: De Mahmoud Saïd à Fouad Kamel, the present composition is Younan’s most daring and most violent composition that paved the way for him to be recognised as one of the forerunners of the Arab Surrealist movement, scarring Modern Arab Art for the decades to follow. Jaguer’s above description of him being ‘the most tormented amongst Georges Henein’s friends’ is further emphasised by the tortuous and frightening female figure depicted by Younan in La Passion Dévorante. Using an unprecedented palette of heavy oily black pigments combined with blood-red and warm earthy tones, the fusion of these colours with powerful bold black outlines and a thickly painted surface, highlight the figure’s torment and almost literally voice her screeching cries of pain, discontent and anger, embodying Art and Freedom’s shout for change. Younan destroys and rips apart the classical female body as traditionally depicted in academic painting that seeks to embody beauty and perfection. Instead, he intentionally emphasises the muscular masculinity of the woman’s arms and legs, resembling to tree-trunks, and focuses on her bulbous breasts, one of which is being clenched by what seems to be a predator’s claw at the end of a shred of bloody flesh that grows out from the woman’s body and extends into the lower part of the painting to grasp her left leg.

Suffocating and strangling the figure’s body, hence silencing her femininity, the ‘human shred of flesh irrigated by an invisible blood’ could allude not only to the struggle of women in the context of the rise of Feminism at the time, spearheaded by female activist Hoda Sharawi (1879-1947), but also to the war and terror brought upon the people by totalitarian regimes, as World War II was raging through Europe. Moreover, this anamorphous shred of flesh emerging from the woman’s guts could also symbolise the subconscious, that Surrealists across the globe sought to unravel, uncover and expose in different ways and through different means, being fervent readers of Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theories on the subconscious. La Passion Dévorante brilliantly incarnates various struggles: an inner struggle between the conscious and the subconscious, an outer struggle with society’s conformism, a physical struggle with politics and war, and an artistic struggle with academic art and ‘emptiness’. Younan tightly framed the woman in his painting, trapping her in the burning hell that his fiery palette hints to, defying emptiness or to use his words ‘piercing through emptiness, raping emptiness’. Despite the de-humanisation of this woman, the tormented movement captured so extraordinarily by Younan in the present work, seems to announce that she will ultimately unleash herself from the shackles of tradition, politics and conscience. La Passion Dévorante pays tribute to the motto of the Art and Freedom Group’s manifesto, ‘Long Live Degenerate Art’, as the naked woman is portrayed by the artist in the most ‘degenerate’ way, in order to shock the public and to free himself from any preconceptions.

In these early stages of the short life of the group Art and Freedom, the artists also used periodicals to express their liberal views and intense frustrations, such as in Al-Tatawwuur (‘Evolution’) or Don Quichotte whose motto read, ‘We struggle against: indifference, anachronism, facility, the use that people don’t make of freedom, all falsifications, and all euphemisms’. Younan’s female figure in La Passion Dévorante precisely embodies this declaration, in its aggressive visual impact that radically rejects any form of convention. Furthermore, it reflects Kamel El-Telmissany’s description of art in an article he published the second issue of Al-Tatawwur in February 1940, entitled “Humanism and Modern Art”: (É) Art will not be a tool for pleasure of people to bring joy to their idle minds. Cheerfulness is far from humanism and life that crashes and keeps crashing every day. This bold call that fills the rubble was yelled by voices, some of them from the new Free Art, and called for by humanist literature before'. In its dehumanization of the female body, Younan’s Passion Dévorante paradoxically stresses the deeply humanist approach to reality, praised by the group Art and Freedom, and throws a violent depiction of the human condition at the time.

The present museum-quality work stands out as a unique in Younan’s Surrealist production, which although quite sparse and rare, is usually characterised by Dali-esque dreamlike landscapes featuring incongruous yet poetic juxtapositions of objects and figures. Nonetheless, it perfectly finds its place alongside the iconic works defining the essence of the Art and Freedom group painted by fellow founding members of the group such as Fouad Kamel, Hassan El-Telmissany and Kamel El-Telmissany, yet it surpasses the latter’s compositions in terms of its disturbing and powerful visual impact. The fury and torment of La Passion Dévorante counter-balance Mahmoud Saïd’s strange and calm composition of a ‘femme fatale’ in Femme aux boucles d’or (1933), that the group illustrated on the poster of the first Art and Freedom exhibition, despite the fact that Saïd did not qualify himself as an active follower of the group. The striking violence of Younan’s painting also challenges some of the West’s greatest masterpieces, echoing a close-up scene from Hieronymous Bosch’s inferno compositions, answering to the cries of war evoked in Pablo Picasso’s infamous Guernica painted only three years earlier, and in his torturous and monstrous Grand nu à la chaise rouge of 1929, or re-interpreting the atrocious dismembered figures of The Metamorphosis of Lovers painted two years earlier by French Surrealist artist André Masson. Whilst Edvard Munch’s worldwide known masterpiece The Scream of 1893 is thought to embody the universal anxiety of modern man and the artist’s inner soul, Younan’s La Passion Dévorante’s ‘strong organic sensuality that is violently expressed by its physical presence’ incarnated the sufferings, horrors and frustrations of the Middle East, of back then but also to some extent reflect that of today.

Very few of paintings from Younan’s Surrealist days are known, some of which are housed in the Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris, the Museum of Modern Arab Art in Doha and the Museum of Modern Art Cairo, yet the present lot is one of his earliest works from that period. Underrated by the West and rediscovered as one of the leading talents of Modern Arab Art, some of Younan’s works and writings are at the core of the popular pioneering exhibition dedicated to Egyptian Surrealism, entitled Baby Elephants Die Alone: Rupture, War and Surrealism in Egypt (1930s-1940s), currently on view at the Kunstsammlung Nordhein-Westfalen of Düsseldorf and soon opening in November 2017 at the Tate Liverpool, after having toured at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris and the Centro Reina Sofa in Madrid.

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