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The Dr. Mohammed Said Farsi
Collection of modern Egyptian art
'Living intimately within Alexandria's enchanted atmosphere of the 1950s had the greatest effect in forming my artistic consciousness.' (Dr. Mohammed Said Farsi)
The collection of Egyptian Modern art of Dr. Mohammed Said Farsi is without question the most important group of its kind in private hands. Amassed over decades and running into several hundred items, the collection represents a complete history of Egyptian art in the twentieth century.
If a collection can speak of the personality of the collector, this one does so with eloquence. Inspired by works of distinctive beauty and a passionate interest in the varying and often contrary trends and schools of Egyptian Modern art, this collection is a testament to the wide ranging outlook of a singular collector.
As a whole, the collection is extraordinary and diverse, but it is the particular areas of focus that make Dr. Farsi's collection truly exceptional. These include extensive groups of important works by Mahmoud Saïd, Abdul Hadi El-Gazzar, Hamed Nada and the brothers Seif and Adham Wanly. Such a selection of masterpieces are scarcely seen outside the Egyptian Museum of Modern Art in Cairo. In his admiration for a wide range of tastes and styles, Dr. Farsi always found beauty in many different aspects of the artistic process. For him what matters is authenticity of production, so that the artist's spirit comes to us through his work. Thus works may be either rough or smooth, rugged or refined. Farsi appreciated the balance between these variables, something which can be seen clearly in both the choice of works in his Egyptian collection and in his sculptural commissions for the city of Jeddah.
Christie's is honoured to offer 29 works from the collection of Dr. Farsi over the three sales of the October season. This will offer a unique insight into the themes and visual narratives that were prevalent in the history of Egyptian Modern art.
Dr. Mohammed Said Farsi was the first Lord Mayor of Jeddah and is one of the Middle East's great patrons of the visual arts. For a long time he was a driving force in the Egyptian art scene, offering support and guidance to many young emerging artists. At the same time he also established close relationships with some of the great names of international art, including César, Moore and Vasarely, each of whom provided several works for his extensive program of public works in Jeddah.
When he took the reins as Mayor in 1972, Jeddah had grown from a small medieval town to a city of 300,000. Under his guidance it was to grow fivefold in the next decade into a major city of over 1.5 million. Dr. Farsi's approach was unique, not just to the region but worldwide. He coupled one of the world's largest urban development programs with beautification through installation of a large number of site-specific monumental sculptures. Around 500 sculptures were commissioned by Arab and international sculptors, which also included works by Miró, Calder, Lipchitz, Arp, Vasarely, César, Hellman, La Fuente, Abdulkarim, El Rayess and Moore. A book entitled Jeddah City of Art, published in 1991 by his son Hani celebrates these achievements.
From early on, Dr. Farsi's life was exceptional. Born in the South West quarter of Mecca Al-Mukarama on 7 January 1935, Farsi left home in 1956 to study in Egypt, one of only 35 students from all over the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia who were sent abroad for further education that year. Having obtained his BA in Architecture and Town Planning from the University of Alexandria, Farsi returned to Saudi Arabia to work in the Bureau of Town Planning in the Western District for ten years. His technical abilities and administrative skill were such, that in 1972, at the age of 37, he became the Director of the bureau and also Head of Jeddah Municipality. In 1980 he became the first Mayor of Jeddah, and during that tenure, in 1982, he received an MA from the University of Alexandria for his thesis on Mecca Al-Mukarama, which was later published as a book entitled The Architecture and Planning Characteristics of Haj Cities in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
In 1986, following two heart operations, Dr. Farsi resigned from public office and focused his energies on research. He received a PhD in Architecture and Town Planning from the University of Alexandria with his thesis entitled The Planning of Arabian Cities Between Theory and Practice - An Applied Study on Jeddah and wrote a series of essays on art history and architecture published in the Jeddah weekly Ikraa and in two newspapers Al-Madina Al-Munawara and Al-Bilad. These were collected in 1989 and published in Jeddah as The Story of Art in Jeddah.
Dr. Farsi held many posts and received many accolades. Among them, he was Member of the Haj Supreme Council, Member of Mecca Al-Mukarama Municipal Board, Member of Committee for Drawing Boundaries between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, Head of the Administrative Committee of Prince Fawaz Bin Abdulaziz's Project for Housing, Head of the Commission for Housing Distribution in the City of Jeddah.
The passion and dedication which Dr. Farsi brought to his work in Jeddah are the traits that also distinguish his outstanding collection of Modern Egyptian art. Over the years Dr. Farsi's profound affection for Egypt and most especially Alexandria, where he completed his studies, found expression in the formation of this astonishing collection.
MODERN ART IN EGYPT
Modern art in Egypt has a long and distinguished history. Egypt in the first half of the twentieth century was the most sophisticated destination in the Eastern Mediterranean and arguably the first Arab country with its own recognisably Modern art. In the early nineteenth century, much of Cairo and Alexandria had been remodeled along the lines of the most chic European cities. The newly-built boulevards, resembling nothing so much as those of Haussmann in Paris, sat uneasily next to the medieval quarters of these old cities.
The story of Modern Egyptian art is tied to national identity. From its beginnings in the early twentieth century, Egyptian artists have often grappled with the multi-layered reality that is Egypt. The cultural history of Egypt stretches back more than 5000 years, from the Pharaonic era through to Graeco-Roman, from the Islamic to the industrial and modern global manifestations. The transition has not always been comfortable and it is at this final stage that the journey of Modern art in Egypt begins.
THE FIRST GENERATION
The official beginning of the Egyptian art movement was 1908, with the opening of the School of Fine Arts in Darb El-Jamamiz. Among its early students were artists now considered amongst the First Generation of pioneer artists - those to have been born before the turn of the twentieth century, including Mahmoud Saïd (1896-1964). The work of these artists demonstrate a strong Egyptian character and a departure from the norms of European-style academic art prevalent at the time. Recurrent themes laid an emphasis on national patriotism, public figures and most notably the ordinary fellahin and public life. In Mahmoud Saïd's works comparable motifs recur, including his favorite subjects - local girls and the fishing community.
THE SECOND GENERATION
The second half of the 1920s until the 1940s saw political upheavals as right and left-wing groups, inspired by either European fascism or communism, rocked Egyptian society to the core. Those artists born between 1900 and 1914, before the eve of the First World War, are considered of the Second Generation. Artists of the Second Generation shunned imagery of the previous generation and their work is remarkably eclectic. Artists of this generation are often ignored or vilified by historians, yet amongst their number were a few outstanding talents. One of the strengths of Dr. Farsi's collection is the huge number of works by the brothers Seif and Adham Wanly, two of the most celebrated artists of this generation. Their work is highly international and often conspicuously free from references to an Egyptian setting.
THE THIRD GENERATION AND THE
CONTEMPORARY ART GROUP
Following the end of the Second World War, Egyptian art saw something of a revival. The Third Generation of Egyptian pioneer artists, those born in the years following the end of the First World War, brought with them vivacity, purpose and strength. Organised into various groups, most important amongst them was the Contemporary Art Group, which counted amongst its number Abdul Hadi El-Gazzar and Hamed Nada.
Formed in 1946, the Group's feeling was that the purpose of art was to move beyond figurative representation and formalist abstraction and instead to express profound and universal concepts. This was demonstrated by the relationship between iconography, style and message in their paintings.
Within the Group were three strands, sometimes reconciled, otherwise not: First - a formalist approach, which embraced new trends in Modern art, some of them Western. Second - metaphysical tendencies, expressed by depictions of figures in primitive settings, which evoked a yearning to rediscover nature, stylistically with ties to Surrealism. Third - and this was to become more prevalent in the later development of certain of its members - the expression of a more particular Egyptian identity and national character. An early advocate was Hamed Nada who, in seeking to move away from metaphysical and surrealist sympathies towards a synthesis of folk art, forcefully depicted the miserable and oppressed masses. These spoke of the tough times which followed the end of the Second World War, when Egypt experienced a recession such as it had never seen. With an exploding population and mass unemployment, a large part of society, rooted in a deeply superstitious folk culture, was dipping below the poverty line. Following Nada's example, it is this reality that was also expressed in the works of El-Gazzar during the late 1940s and early 1950s.
PROPERTY FROM THE COLLECTION OF DR. MOHAMMED SAID FARSI
Post Lot Text
This work will be included in the forthcoming Mahmoud Saïd Catalogue raisonné, prepared by Dr. Hussam Rashwan and Valérie Hess.