As one of the very few works by Mahmoud Saïd together with Hanem (lot 11), Nu au rideau gris is signed and dated both in Arabic and in French not only on the front but also on the reverse, whilst these details only feature on the reverse of Hanem. A luminous light turquoise-green colour used for the curtains and bed, strangely referred to as a ‘grey’ pigment (‘gris’) by the artist in his title, contrasts beautifully with the female model’s golden brown sun-kissed skin, displaying Saïd’s unequalled mastery at creating a unique light emanating from his canvas through a vibrant dialogue between complimentary colours. Saïd also plays with the contrast between the model’s fully exposed lustrous body, exaggerating her hips’ curves and her bulbous breast, and her apparent shyness as she turns her face away from both viewer and painter towards the grey wall in the background.
Mahmoud Saïd’s known oeuvre comprises of more than 400 paintings, yet more than a tenth of his productions depict female nudes, presented with a wide range of attributes, settings and features. His earliest nudes seem to date from 1922 and his last known nude was painted over several years from 1951 to 1957, Nu au collier. Through his forty or so female nude paintings, Saïd explores the female body under all its angles: their skin can be white, bronze, golden or black; their bodies are muscular, voluptuous and even plump in some cases; their attributes include golden, blue or red bracelets, coral or pearl necklaces or earrings, black or purple veils, or even flowers. The setting can be simply on a sofa, a chair or in front of a curtain as the present lot, or he sometimes invented the background creating a whole narrative around the female nude, placing her in front of the Mediterranean sea on Alexandria’s corniche for example, or making her part of a biblical scene such as in Adam et Eve, or a mythological scene such as in L’Exode. As a trained lawyer, Mahmoud Saïd in most cases meticulously dated and titled, referring to all the above mentioned attributes, his nude paintings to also differentiate them from one another. Although the female model is often anonymous and hence to some extent objectified, he does identify them by their attributes and settings.
Nu au rideau gris is probably one of his most voluptuous nudes, in which he enhanced the feminine features of her body and intentionally concealed half of her face, to focus the viewer’s attention on her body. He stripped her bare of any jewellery, veil, headscarf or flower ornament, and uses the curtain to emphasise her body and her presence in his painting and to capture the essence of Egyptian female beauty, a leit motiv in his oeuvre. Her anonymity also gives a universal dimension to this Egyptian female beauty that Saïd presents and glorifies throughout his artworks. As the son of a former Egyptian Prime Minister and the uncle of Queen Farida, there is no doubt that Saïd’s aristocratic milieu hindered his access to live female nudes. However, Saïd’s closeness to contemporary foreign artists of the Alexandrian art scene at the time, and particularly to Greek expatriate Aristomenis Angelopoulos (1900-1990) enabled him to paint from live nude models in Angelopoulos’ studio in Alexandria, and the photographic archives of artist Ezzat Ibrahim provide some insight into the type of female models Saïd painted.