An artist of many talents, illustrative journalism, portrait artist, poet, art critic and art teacher, Hussein Bicar is often overlooked for his contribution to Egyptian Modern art history. As part of the second generation of Egyptian artists along with Ramsès Younan and Salah Taher with whom he studied under Youssef Kamel and Ahmed Sabri, his body of work constitutes a serene, well-crafted and decorative oeuvre that is testament to his deep appreciation for Egyptian culture and history. His paintings, admired for their harmonic use of colour and form, as well as their graceful romanticism, instigate feelings of optimism and amicability.
This season, Christie's is honoured to be offering two spectacular examples by the artist from the collection of Hoda Sabry. A long-time friend and patron of the artist, Sabry has amassed one of the most comprehensive collections of works by the artist, allowing for a deep mutual appreciation that shows in the breadth of works that comprise the collection.
Born in Alexandria, Bicar moved early to Cairo to study at the College of Fine Arts where he later became the head of the painting department before moving to the Akhbar Al Youm Press as chief journalistic illustrator. Throughout his life, Bicar was engrossed in ancient Egyptian art and was infatuated with Pharaonic civilisation. As a result, his oeuvre reflects these influences with his use of a relatively earthy and natural colour palette and a deep attraction towards capturing scenes of the Egyptian countryside and Nubians in the field and along the Nile.
Although he was born in the coastal city of Alexandria, Bicar was more attracted to Southern Egypt mentioning 'after I came to Cairo and then moved southward with the Nile to Qena, I felt drawn to the river, its female villagers and civilization. The Nile overwhelms me. Drink from the Nile and you are sure to return to it! In contrast, the sea is salty!' (The artist quoted in Dr. S. Al-Sharouny,
Bikar: Hussein Bikar The Artist of the Left (in Arabic), Cairo 2002, p. 154).
Blending realism with a sense of idealism, Bicar's works portraying rural scenes, of which the present works are seminal examples, are uniquely marked both by simplicity and decoration. In the first, entitled Al Ashjar Tamout Wakifa (TheTrees Die Standing) Bicar captures what appear to be Nubian men in traditional white clothes gathering chopped wood from the trees that fill the background of the composition. The title's play on words, in that the trees die with dignity in an implication of standing proud is a direct reference to the flooding and consequent evacuation of Nubia following the building of the Aswan High Dam that left many Egyptians wary of the destruction of heritage so to speak. Bicar creates a work that is almost like an expressive dance that hides the harshness and worries of the reality of the situation; there is a sense of pride that emanates from the composition despite the barren and apparent despair of the empty trees in the background. The implication is that even though the Nubians were forced to flee, they did so with pride and stature staying strong like the trunks of trees.
In the second work entitled Al Mowa'ad (The Rendezvous), Bicar captures the precious moment where two lovers meet; a woman waits anxiously as her companion arrives by boat along the Nile. Placed in the foreground, the viewer's gaze automatically gravitates towards the woman on the right. Typical of most of Bicar's works, women often take the lead in his compositions as he believes that they are the epitome of beauty and grace, which he aims to afford all of his paintings. Depicting these women gracefully, he shows details of their femininity and figure, but in a way that is rather abstract. In the present composition, by dressing the male in white and black, the artist also highlights the woman through her bright pink dress, her pose demonstrating a sense of movement that is mimicked in the architectural forms that surround the scene, reflecting the ancient Nubian and ancient Egyptian architecture that Bicar so loved. Although he uses a pink to depict the woman's dress, it is a rather muted colour that is reflected in the artist's moderate use of colour palette, which heightens the sense of anticipation, albeit positive, of the moment the two are destined to meet. Even without any facial features, Bicar manages to instill a palpable understanding of chemistry between the two characters within the calming waters that renders this painting a charming and seductive example by the artist.