'Here, in Egypt, the sun is beautiful, the colour tones are magnificent, the light is transparent, the women are sculptural and the men are superb. The scents are delicious, they surround us and perpetuate throughout the day and beyond and then, I think that life deserves to be lived!'
(The artist quoted; translated from French)
Displayed at the Galerie Eugène Druet in Paris the year of its making in 1929, Les Sycomores du Vieux Caire epitomises the theme of the Druet exhibition, dedicated to Sabbagh's native land, Egypt. Art critics who reviewed this exhibition, praised the way in which Sabbagh's paintings captured the essence of his homeland, describing the solo show as presenting 'Egypt seen through an Egyptian's eyes ... from Les Sycomores du Vieux Caire and the refreshing shades of Choubrah ... In love with his native land, he unveils to us new, and hence unique, sensations of Egypt' (Raymond Bouyer, Revue de l'art ancient et moderne, 1st May 1930; translated from French). A year after the Druet exhibition, Sabbagh obtained French citizenship in 1930, yet Les Sycomores du Vieux Caire encapsulates the artist's Alexandrian roots in this quintessentially Egyptian landscape.
Being the first Egyptian painter to study at the Louvre in Paris alongside French masters Paul Sérusier, Félix Vallotton and Nabis painter Maurice Denis, the present work faultlessly marries the two great cultural influences in Sabbagh's life through his truly unique painterly style. Passionate in creating an identifiable manner of painting during a time where the assimilation of stylistic trends such as the Nabis, the Fauvists and the Cubists was widespread, Sabbagh's thick areas of impasto softened by his brushstrokes and his interpretations of dimensionality are unprecedented. The sun-lit colours of the sandy foreground skillfully radiate a dazzling light and the weight of the Egyptian heat, counterbalanced by the shade created by the shielding of the sycamore's vast branches.
As inscribed along the lower left edge of the painting, Sabbagh dedicated Les Sycomores du Vieux Caire to H.R.H. King Fouad I (1868-1936), the ninth ruler of both Egypt and Sudan from the Muhammad Ali Dynasty. He was proclaimed King in 1922, following Britain's recognition of Egypt as an independent state despite keeping control over Sudan and clinging onto the reins of Egypt's foreign policies and military operations. Sabbagh's imposing sycamore tree dominates his composition and appears to be a majestic metaphor of Egyptian patriotism, that literally kept its roots in the ground despite centuries of successive foreign invasions.