Audio: Mahmoud Saïd, Pêcheurs à Rashid (Rosette)
Mahmoud Saïd (Egyptian, 1897-1964)
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Lots are subject to 5% import Duty on the importat… Read more PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE EGYPTIAN COLLECTION
Mahmoud Saïd (Egyptian, 1897-1964)

Pêcheurs à Rashid (Rosette)

Mahmoud Saïd (Egyptian, 1897-1964)
Pêcheurs à Rashid (Rosette)
signed and dated 'M.SAÏD 1941' (lower right); signed, titled and dated 'MAHMOUD SAÏD PÊCHEURS À ROSETTE 1941' (on the reverse)
oil on panel
34¼ x 50 3/8in. (87 x 128cm.)
Painted in 1941
Acquired directly from the artist in 1941 by the previous owner, and thence by descent.
A. Azar, La Peinture Moderne en Egypte, Cairo 1961, no. 16 (illustrated, titled Paysage à Rosette and dated 1941-42, p.30).
B. Al Din Abou-Ghazy, Mahmoud Saïd, (in Arabic), Cairo 1971 (illustrated, unpaged).
E. Dawastashy, Mahmoud Saïd, (in Arabic), Cairo 1997, no. 147 (illustrated, pp. 199 and 303).
N. Atallah, Mahmoud Saïd: Pioneer of Modern Egyptian Art, Alexandria, November 2010 (illustrated, p. 105).
Alexandria, Musée des Beaux-Arts & Centre Culturel, À l'occasion du Huitième Anniversaire de la Révolution: Exposition rétrospective des oeuvres du peintre lauréat MAHMOUD SAÏD, July - August 1960, no. 82 (preparatory oil sketch illustrated, unpaged).
Alexandria, Musée des Beaux-Arts & Centre Culturel, À l'occasion du Douxième Anniversaire de la Révolution: Exposition rétrospective des oeuvres du peintre lauréat MAHMOUD SAÏD 1897-1964, July - September 1964, no. 35 (illustrated, unpaged).
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Lot Essay

Pêcheurs à Rashid is the largest work by the most acclaimed modern Egyptian painter, Mahmoud Saïd, to ever appear at auction.

It is slightly wider than the second world record for the artist at auction, Les Chadoufs (1934), which measured 89 x 117cm. (Christie's Dubai, April 2010, sold for $2,434,500). There are three other known compositions by Saïd, which depict fishermen, as well as two preparatory oil sketches. The first one is La Pêche Miraculeuse in 1933 (Private collection) for which Saïd also produced a beautiful preparatory sketch. The second painting exploring the subject of fishermen is Storm at the Corniche of 1941 (Private Collection). The latter was executed the same year as the present work Pêcheurs à Rashid, for which Saïd made a preparatory oil sketch also dated 1941 (no. 146 in E. Dawastashy's book, incorrectly dated 1940, as it is signed and dated 1941; Private collection). The last time Sad seems to have represented this theme was in Pêcheursà Silsileh in 1942 (Private collection). However, Pêcheurs à Rashid is undeniably the most representative of Saïd's oeuvre amongst the four different paintings depicting Fishermen scenes, because of the beauty of its intrinsic Egyptian character captured through the artist's harmonious composition.

As indicated in the title, the scene takes place in Rashid, otherwise known as Rosetta, a Mediterranean port on the Northern Egyptian coast. The river flowing through the present work is the Western branch of the Nile Delta, also referred to as the Rosetta. This city is worldwide known since the discovery of the Rosetta Stone in 1799 by a Napoleonic soldier, which was one of the archaeological keys to the understanding of Ancient Civilisation, allowing the decryption of Egyptian hieroglyphs. This rich historical background provides the perfect setting for Mahmoud Saïd's painting, with the mention of the city's name in the title resonating Egypt's glorious past.

In Pêcheurs à Rashid, it is unclear whether the two fishermen next to the boat are finishing unloading their catch of the day, grabbing the last fish caught in their net or whether they are in the process of hanging the fish net in order to repair any holes, which may have occurred during their last outing. Saïd here depicts the harshness of Egyptian fishermen's daily tasks, emphasizing on their strenuous efforts to pull out the heavy fish net of their boat after a long and exhausting day fishing on the river. Yet Saïd does not give them a rugged appearance, but rather attributes them with Herculean muscular bodies, hinting to Michelangelo's figures in the Sistine Chapel and elegant fisherman caps. This scene full of vigour and male power is counter-balanced by the grace and statuesque pose of the female figure on the left, carrying a basket full of fresh fish. As she calmly stares at the fishermen's hard work, she stands like an Egyptian caryatid, opposite the bearded fisherman in the foreground, who resembles an ancient god taken from Egyptian hieroglyphs. Saïd elevates the fishermen's status to a more noble one by bathing the entire scene in a warm golden Egyptian sunlight, overshadowing their arduous daily labours. The flecks of light piercing through the palm trees' leaves recall Impressionist paintings, which Saïd had admired earlier in his career. To some extent, the mottled surface in Pêcheurs à Rashid is reminiscent of Pierre-Auguste Renoir's masterpiece Le Bal au Moulin de la Galette of 1876 (Musée d'Orsay, Paris), which was displayed at the Musée du Luxembourg in the early 1920s when Saïd visited Paris. However, Saïd's flecks are not a fleeting 'impression' on canvas like Renoir's, but rather a solid means of 'expression' for him to grasp the scene's atmosphere and the figures' individual character.

There are several signature elements from Mahmoud Saïd's pictorial language, which appear in some of his other compositions. The two women carrying amphoras on their heads in the background on the right are a recurring motif throughout his oeuvre, but also a tribute to his counterpart in sculpture, Mahmoud Mokhtar, one of the fathers of Modern Egyptian Art. The feluccas smoothly sailing on the Nile with the river barges overflowing with palm trees, as well as the facial features and elegant dress of the female figure on the left, can also be found in other major works by the artist. He sometimes treats them separately as the subject matter for a painting. Not only do all these elements of the composition embody the Egyptian identity, but they also suggest optimism and national pride: the woman's basket is full of fresh fish, the fishermen's net still seems heavy from their catch of the day, the traffic on the Nile is very busy and the palm tree on the far left is almost struggling to cope with the weight of the clusters of sumptuous golden dates. The lush vegetation depicted in Pêcheurs à Rashid is also a reminder of the richness and fertility of the Nile Delta's agricultural region.

In terms of compositional structure, Pêcheurs à Rashid alike Les Chadoufs is an ingenuous product of Saïd's careful study of the Flemish and Italian Primitives back in the 1920s, when he attended art classes at the Louvre and La Grande Chaumière as well as travelling throughout Europe to visit art museums. The triangular composition in both Pêcheurs à Rashid and Les Chadoufs recalls not only the shape of Egyptian pyramids, but also many compositions of the Primitives, amongst which that of Roger van den Weyden's famous Descent From The Cross of 1435 (Prado Museum, Madrid). The humanity of Van den Weyden's figures witnessing such a tragic event left a strong impact on the Egyptian Master and in a similar way, Saïd's strives to grasp the inner feelings and beauty of his figures, whomever they may be, throughout his works.

The importance of this pyramidal structure in Pêcheurs à Rashid can be seen when comparing its preparatory oil sketch with the present final work. In the sketch, the composition is built with the female figure on the left, the large sail of the felucca in the background as the top of the triangular composition and finally the robust bearded fisherman holding the net in the lower right quadrant. In the present final version, Saïd made some very slight adjustments to his pyramidal composition, keeping the woman on the left and the bearded fisherman on the right, yet the triangle's peak is subtler than in the sketch, being a much smaller felucca in the background. The crescendo movement of the entire composition is further enhanced with the diagonal formed by the white and redorange fishermen hats on the right, echoed by the diagonal on the left created by the woman's red-orange head-scarf and the patterns of her dress, also of that same colour. These two diagonals then culminate in the felucca's white sail, far in the background, creating much more depth in the final version than in the sketch. The former has been simplified and appears less crowded as Saïd gives each figure its own space and individuality. Nonetheless, they are all harmoniously inter-linked through the complex game of diagonals, framed by the verticality of the trees, figures and feluccas interlocked with the horizontality of the river and the row of palm trees at the centre of the background.

Pêcheurs à Rashid is irrefutably one of Saïd's most important masterpieces left in private hands. The subject matter combined several emblematic Egyptian leitmotivs of Saïd's oeuvre, whilst the complexity of his clever play with colours and diagonals resulted in one of his most impressive and lyrical compositions.

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