Christie's is honoured to reveal this rare re-discovery of one of Mahmoud Saïd's unpublished masterpieces, Crépuscule sur le Mahmoudieh of 1933. Listed only in the January 1936 issue of La Semaine Egyptienne as belonging to Mr Baghat El-Batanouny, Crépuscule sur le Mahmoudieh, is unique in Sad's oeuvre in terms of subject matter, composition and palette. Baghat El-Batanouny was married to Fardous Hamada, daughter of Khalil Pacha Hamada and Zeinab Hanem Mazloum, who was Mahmoud Saïd's great aunt.
Representing a scene of locals drinking coffee at twilight by the Mahmoudieh canal, just outside Alexandria, it grasps a fleeting moment of daily Egyptian life. The Mahmoudieh canal is the water highway between the Nile and the city, not only bringing freshwater to the Alexandrians, but also irrigating the agricultural land around the city. Saïd produced a handful of masterpieces depicting sunrise or sunset, in which the Egyptian master of colour excelled in painting lyrical luminous skies at dawn and dusk, and Crépuscule sur le Mahmoudieh is his earliest known example. In comparison with Sunset on the Nile at Luxor of 1945, previously in the collection of Dr. Mohammed Said Farsi and sold by Christie's in April 2010, Crépuscule sur le Mahmoudieh bathes in a warm golden sunset light, very different from the silvery light infusing the sunrise scene of the 1945 painting. The small female figure carrying a jar on her head in the background of the present lot has become the central figure in the 1945 composition, whilst in Crépuscule sur le Mahmoudieh, Saïd's focus was on the two men in the foreground, one leaning on the ramp gazing out to the canal and the other one crumpled in his chair by a table with a cup of coffee. In both paintings, Mahmoud Saïd's signature play with the water reflections of the skies is beautifully executed and emanates the golden light of Crépuscule and the silvery light of Sunset on the Nile at Luxor.
Having been brought up in the high society of Alexandria, as well as being a judge at the Mixed Courts and Queen Farida's uncle, Mahmoud Saïd was fascinated by the simple everyday countryside life, which was so far removed from his own aristocratic life. He depicted peasants picking up dates in palm trees, also in 1933 (La cueillette des dates; Private Collection), and a year later, he painted another masterpiece, Les Chadoufs (Mathaf, Doha), in which he represents peasants pumping water with the traditional chadouf. In both of these works, through the dynamics of his ingenuous compositions, Saïd transcribes the peasants' efforts at work, whereas Crépuscule sur le Mahmoudieh is a snapshot view of peasants relaxing after a hard day of labour. As if shot by a camera, the scene is very still and quiet; there is no interaction between the figures. They each seem to be absorbed in their own thoughts, relishing every single minute of rest and serenity, before night falls and another day of work begins. Through his painting, Saïd eternalises the scene and attempts to immerse himself in this untouched world of peasants to better understand it. His interest in peasants' lifestyle lies in the fact that it is deeply rooted in traditional Egyptian customs, which seem to have barely changed, providing Saïd a gateway to his native land and to capture the essence of an Egyptian feel.