'The most serious aspect of Mahmoud Saïd's art and its unique power in Egyptian Modern Art is the inclusion of senses in hastening the passing of the eyes and the soul over the surface of the painting, and penetrating to the internal truth that strongly resonated in his soul, through the digestion of the different art schools with a free understanding, deducing from all of this, that unique personality and that special style of creativity that amazes us and makes us yell before it, "Yes, this is Mahmoud Saïd". Saïd's special vision materialized with the beginning of the 1920s, and we see it in the "Haguer" painting.'
(M. Henein, "Pioneers of Visual Art in Egypt: Mahmoud Saïd", in E. Dawastashy, Mahmoud Saïd, Cairo 1997, p. 212; translated from Arabic by Suzanne Beltagy).
Haguer is undeniably one of Mahmoud Saïd's most iconic works, having featured in the artist's three most important retrospective exhibitions of 1951, 1960 and 1964, and being illustrated in several ground-breaking publications on the artist. Furthermore, Haguer was painted at a pivotal time of the artist's life. Professionally, the year 1922 - a year before Haguer was painted - coincides with the beginning of Saïd's twenty-five year long career in the judiciary system. After obtaining a French law degree in 1919, one of his first assignments as a qualified lawyer took him to travel to Mansourah for six consecutive years. From an artistic point of view, Mahmoud Saïd had accomplished his eclectic training as an artist by 1923, from his first mentor Mrs. Amelia Casonato Da Forno in 1910, followed by his regular visits to Arturo Zanieri's studio from 1915 to 1918, up to his summer classes in Paris first at La Grande Chaumière in 1919 and later at l'Académie Julian in 1921. He had also undertaken several trips to leading European museums, learning from the Old Masters and familiarizing himself with nineteenth and early twentieth century Western art. Finally, in his personal life, Sad had just settled with his young wife, Ms. Samiha Riad, whom he had married in 1922.
Up until 1923 when Mahmoud Saïd produced this outstanding painting of Haguer, most of his portraits depicted close family relatives and friends. Yet Haguer is the painter's first portrayal of an Egyptian plebeian woman or fellaha, a subject he explored throughout the rest of his life and that became one of his oeuvre's signatures. A young female domestic servant appears to be curled up on the floor, leaning against a bare wall, outside what seems to be a house whose architecture recalls that of Talkha or Mansourah, as seen in Maisons arabes à Talkha (lot 9 in the present sale). Her humble position is further enhanced by her simple colourless clothes that almost cover her body entirely and conceal her feminine curves. Whilst her wavy jet-black hair is tucked under a light grey-blue headdress, her bronze-like sculptural face glows amidst her dark clothes, bringing out her authentic Egyptian features. Haguer's overall dominance of earthy tones emphasises the sitter's spiritual and physical connection with the roots of her homeland and reflects Saïd's endless seek for the true Egyptian identity. Although sadness seems to overtake her, she defiantly stares out straight at the viewer with her strikingly dark eyes, recalling that of the Fayoum portraits found on Coptic mummies. As Ahmed Rassem wrote in his description of Haguer, the woman is conscious that time is passing and that nothing can change it or stop it, hence why she helplessly slouches in a sombre corner of the house and watches her life unfold itself in front of her eyes:
'The painting of the maid "Haguer" also comes to mind, as she sits on the floor contemplating her sad life, feeling sadder than a once beautiful woman defaced by senility, and we imagine that each time she stood before a mirror and saw the branching wrinkles on her face and her once-firm breasts sagging on the many folds of her body, she would feel her heart breaking and she would let out a deep sigh over a youth long-gone and a once striking branch-like figure now dry and cracked.' (A. Rassem, Mahmoud Saïd, The Painter, 1937; translated from Arabic by Suzanne Beltagy).
The simplicity, honesty and humility that characterise Mahmoud Saïd's portrait of Haguer single out this painting amongst his oeuvre as being one of the most truthful depictions of the Egyptian fellaha. In Femme aux Gargoulettes painted in 1930, a strange caricatured woman with oversized bulbous lips stands at a window carrying jars. As opposed to Haguer, who is huddled up on the floor and whose reserved body is hidden under her dark rags, the Femme aux gargoulettes seductively exposes her femininity, as her plump breasts seem to almost burst out from the cleavage of her sleeveless tight blouse. In Femme aux Gargoulettes, Saïd presents another type of fellaha than Haguer, through which he magnifies female Egyptian beauty, transforming the plebeian woman into a femme fatale, a leitmotiv seen throughout his oeuvre. More than twenty years after painting Haguer, Saïd depicted another fellaha in Petite Fille d'Assiout, which this time represents a young peasant girl, firmly posing in front of a typical Nile landscape with feluccas in the background. Her freshness and her proud posture are very different to Haguer's tired features and her crouched position against a wall. As always, Saïd creates an artistic dialogue between the different characters of his oeuvre. In this case, the little girl of Assiout responds to Haguer's humbleness, shyness and hopelessness, expounding her nationalistic pride of her Egyptian roots and of the Egyptian land, whilst Femme aux Gargoulettes unveils another face of the Egyptian fellaha, that of her beauty's temptress powers. Yet in all three paintings of these different types of fellahas, Saïd interprets the Western invention of chiaroscuro by attributing his sitters a warm sun-kissed golden skin that emanates his unique use of light, of which Haguer is the earliest example. This work will be included in the forthcoming Mahmoud Saïd Catalogue raisonné, prepared by Dr. Hussam Rashwan and Valérie Hess.