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Samir Rafi (Egyptian, 1926-2004)
Buyers of imported objects collected or shipped wi… Read more PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE COLLECTION, CAIRO
Samir Rafi (Egyptian, 1926-2004)

L'Homme à La Chandelle (Man With Candlelight)

Samir Rafi (Egyptian, 1926-2004)
L'Homme à La Chandelle (Man With Candlelight)
signed and dated 'S. Rafi. 51' (lower left); signed, titled and dated 'S. RAFI L'Homme à La Chandelle 1951' (on the reverse)
oil on panel
41 ¾ x 59 1/8in. (106 x 150cm.)
Painted in 1951
The artist's collection, Paris.
Private Collection, Cairo.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
A. Azar, Peintres de L'Egypte Renaissante, Cairo 1954 (illustrated, p. 27).
A. Azar, La Peinture Moderne en Egypte, Cairo 1961 (illustrated, p. 93).
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Lot Essay

Egyptian artist Samir Rafi was praised by the late art critic Aimé Azar for having an aesthetic style and technique uniquely his own, one which he fully conceived after experimenting with the themes of Egyptian Surrealism in the late 1940s. As a member of the Contemporary Art Group, an artist collective founded in 1946, Rafi would adapt his interest in Egyptian vernacular culture to his bright, expressive art style.
His new style portrayed both human and animal subjects drawn with a dark and heavy outlines, coloured in with raw paint which he applied directly from the tube. Achieving a degree of two-dimensional flatness, his work appeared reminiscent of the decorative patterns painted on the facades of Nubian houses in bright oranges, blues and pinks; and the murals painted on walls in Cairo’s poorer neighborhoods.
Although Rafi’s usual work incorporated symbols derived from the vernacular mystic folk culture of Egypt, the present work titled Man with Candlelight does not include the common recurring vernacular themes such as that of talismans, fish, pots, lizards, and Hand of Fatima. Instead, the painting includes a close up view of a man guarding the flickering flame of a candle he carries in his left hand with his right. The scene could be a reference to an Egyptian proverb “He who has a candle should guard it,” the meaning of which carries the warning of protecting something one values from others. The very composition of the painting might actually allude to Rafi’s heeding of the warning of the proverb: to protect and nurture the ideas and politics that Rafi supported; calling for distancing one’s self away from the Western ideals of painting both in terms of style and subject matter and to focus the attention on a style that is shaped from Egyptian points of inspiration and subjects. It is possible that Rafi was referencing safeguarding the fight against Western influence not only within the arts, but socially on a national scale. Considering the historical context of the time, Rafi may be in fact making a commentary in his painting about protecting the nationalist movement that sought independence from British Imperialism and control of Egypt.
In the marked shift from Surrealism to Abstraction, Rafi succeeds in melding figuration with abstraction because of the dynamism he imbued his subjects with, particularly well exemplified in the male figure of the painting. The protagonist’s left hand firmly grips the candle with thick, muscular fingers. The hand that shields the candle is drawn differently with more attention given to shading and skeletal segmentation of the fingers. Within this large composition, the subject’s eyes are as equally powerful as the hands. Rafi painted the male figure at such a close up angle that it leaves no room to encounter this work without feeling that one is getting so intimately near him. This work suggests a myriad amount of conjectures regarding the content of the work, but what is clear that Rafi was equally experimenting with style and technique, pushing himself to create something unlike anything else he has done before, and he succeeded in doing so.

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