Mahmoud Said (Egypt, 1897-1964) Le Chômeur (The Vagabond)

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Lot 15*
Mahmoud Said
(Egypt, 1897-1964)
Le Chômeur (The Vagabond)

Sold for £ 1,222,750 (US$ 1,685,502) inc. premium
Mahmoud Said (Egypt, 1897-1964)
Le Chômeur (The Vagabond)
oil on canvas, framed
signed "M.SAID" and dated "1946" (lower left), further signed, dated and titled "Le Chômeur" in Arabic and English on the verso, executed in 1946
80 x 70cm (31 1/2 x 27 9/16in).



    Property from the collection of the renowned actress Leila Sheir, Cairo,
    The artists collection until 1964, thence by descent to Nadia Mahmoud Said, the artists daughter
    acquired from the above by Raouf Abou Esbe circa 1977 and gifted to his wife, the present owner

    Paris, Musee des Arts Decoratifs, Louvre, Egypt Exhibit, 1949, No 757
    Alexandria, Solo exhibition at the Amitiés Françaises, 1950
    Guezireh Palace, Cairo, Retrospective Exhibition: Mahmoud Said, 1951, No.100
    Alexandria, Museum of Fine Arts, Mahmoud Said, 1960, No.53
    Alexandria, Museum of Fine Arts, 1964, Mahmoud Said, No.131

    Boctor, Gabriel. Artistes contemporains d'Egypte: Mahmoud Saïd. Cairo: Editions Aladin, 1 October 1952, (illustrated);
    Guézireh, Société des Amis de l'Art sous le Patronage de S.M. Le Roi, Catalogue de la rétrospective des oeuvres de Mahmoud Saïd. 1921-1951
    Makarius, La Revue Du Caire, 1951, No.142
    Rassem, 1952, plate 23
    Al-Sharouni, 1965, p.76 (illustrated)
    Mustafa, 1966 (illustrated)
    Abu Ghazi, 1972 (illustrated)
    Dawastashy, Esmat. Mahmoud Saïd: Memorial Book on the Pioneer of
    Contemporary Egyptian Painting – On the 100th Anniversary of his Birth, Cairo: Ministry of Culture - The Cultural Development Fund. 1997, no. 43 (illustrated No.172)
    Abdul Salam, 2009, p.151
    Al-Shafei, Rawya Ossama. Artist Mahmoud Saïd: An Artistic and Analytical Study. MA Thesis. Faculty of Fine Arts of Alexandria, 2012, illustrated fig 157
    Valerie Didier Hess and Hussam Rashwan, Mahmoud Said: Catalogue Raisonne Volume 1, Paintings, Skira Editore, 2016, illustrated on page 252

    The present work is included in the Artists Catalogue Raisonne; Valerie Didier Hess and Hussam Rashwan, Mahmoud Said: Catalogue Raisonne Volume 1, Paintings, Skira Editore, 2016, illustrated on page 252

    "In Said's works where people are present, we see them expressing their pleasures and dreams' we witness feminine intrigues, the murmurs of street peddlers, the frenzies of the "Zar". In this fabulous Egypt, where the women are golden, the sea is indigo and the palm trees are as loaded as the fishermen's nets – miraculously, a witness seems to have come from another world: he is the Chomeur

    Lightning bolts that sting the sky of Alexandria's Corniche point to the distress of his grey jacket, of his abandoned hands, recalling that he is an Egypt that no magic brush can transfigure. In an atmosphere of enchantment, one sunbeam almost transforms his ragged clothing into a brocade, transforms a puddle into a lake of bliss, transforms a horizon of hovels and mud into a city of Venetian prestige. The beam fades before an ageing face, marked by discouragement. There is poetry in his rags, whose holes withstand the cold wind, and he who wears them refuses to bow to humiliation

    Witness the Chomeur of Mahmoud Said: is this not, within this retrospective, which is one of the paramount display in Egyptian art history, an example of Egyptian arts ability not only to transform the aspect of things, but also the gaze which falls upon them? "

    Laura Makarius

    "Witness the Chomeur of Mahmoud Said: is this not, within this retrospective, which is one of the paramount display in Egyptian art history, an example of Egyptian arts ability not only to transform the aspect of things, but also the gaze which falls upon them? "
    Laura Makarius

    Bonhams have the rare privilege of presenting one of the most iconic and moving works by the doyen of Egyptian art, Mahmoud Said, ever to come to the market. Poignant, enigmatic and graceful, Le Chomeur or the Vagabond, is the archetypal synthesis of Said's inimitable portraits of noble Egyptian peasants and is specifically identified by leading art critics of the time as a seminal masterpiece within his oeuvre.

    Said's empathetic and stylized representations of Egyptian daily life, pronounced so touchingly in the present work, would later be regarded as the supreme expression of Egyptian artistic heritage in the twentieth century.

    Tender and ennobling in its portrayal of the dignified Egyptian peasant, the present work is evidence of an artist, who belying his aristocratic heritage and classical artistic training, captured the true spirit of the age in his penetrative renderings of the Egyptians and their everyday plight.

    The present work comes to market with a distinguished provenance; originally in the collection of the artists daughter, it was subsequently acquired by the renowned Egyptian Actress and fashion icon Leila Sheir, who was crowned Miss Egypt in 1964. Published in over a dozen books and journals, and exhibited numerous times during the artists life, Le Chomeur's immense significance is underscored by its inclusion in a major exhibition at the Louvre in Paris in 1949 which commemorated Franco-Egyptian culture

    Never before presented at auction, Le Chomeur is an extremely rare example of a major portrait coming to market. With the majority of Said's work held by institutions or in permanent collections, the current sale presents collectors with one of the few remaining opportunities to acquire a pivotal work by the artist.


    The composition is permeated by a sense of mystery which is most palpable in the sitter's inscrutable and solemn downward gaze. Reflective, demure, and exuding a sense of dignified simplicity - the sitter can be interpreted equally as a weary, sombre figure as he can a source of wisdom.

    In imbuing his Vagabond with a sense of humble wisdom, Said follows in a distinct European tradition in portraiture, in particular the works of Diego Velázquez, Goya and Eduoard Manet, whose paintings of world-weary "beggar-philosophers" fit into the common intellectual notion of the social outcast as a seer possessing rare insight.

    A dark, almost surreal air envelops the backdrop; gloomy and desolate, the landscape is a visual metaphor for the Chomeur's hardship; yet, in stark contrast to his sullen mood, figures in the background continue their daily work; fishermen by the harbour and sailing boats in the sea remind us that our figure is an outcast from the daily activity of working life.

    The movement towards a vernacular, humanized art-form marked not only an artistic shift for Said, but a shift from his own aristocratic milieu. What we see in Le Chomeur is the apotheosis of Said's artistic agenda: which was his ache for capturing the ineffable nobility of the common Egyptian.

    Characterised by an atmosphere of nostalgia and longing, in Said's depiction we get a purified symbol of the beauty and dignity of Egypt and its people. Well documented, widely exhibited, and with a provenance that testifies to its brilliance, Le Chomeur survives as one of the most elegant and iconic examples of Mahmoud Said's work.


    Poor beggars and vagabonds have often been depicted to underscore the virtues of simplicity and the pure heartedness of those which have no material ties in the world, heavily influenced by the popularity of Stoic philosophy throughout Western thinking. Beggars proved to be a highly rewarding subject for painters, draughtsmen and sculptors. The artists could portray various emotions and generate pathos by introducing dramatic gestures and solemn facial expressions, and lavish attention on rendering a variety of textures and materials.

    The portrayal of beggars in art differs from period to period. While in the 17th century they are sometimes presented as caricatures – for example in Hendrik Avercamp's densely populated paintings – in 19th-century art they often serve to highlight world-weary wisdom and to denounce social injustice. Ranging from medieval Bible scenes and Brueghel's crippled beggars to etchings by Rembrandt and 19th-century genre paintings of beggars at the door, the subject of begging is timeless and universal


    "What I am looking for is radiance rather than light. What I want is internal light, not surface light.... Surface light pleases for a minute or an hour while internal light captivates slowly, but once it appears, it imprisons us, it possesses us"
    - Mahamoud Said, Letter to Beppi-Martin, 1927

    Mahmoud Said's body of work is considered as one of the central pillars of twentieth century Egyptian art. Born into an aristocratic Alexandrian family, Mahmoud Said was an unlikely artist. He was the son of Mohammed Pasha Said, who was Egypt's Prime Minister during the reign of King Faud I, he later became uncle to Queen Farida, the first wife of King Farouk. Throughout his lifetime Said existed in the Milieu of the Egyptian gentry, a subject matter wholly rejected in his artworks, reflecting a sincere desire to divert his artistic gaze towards the land of Egypt and of common Egyptians, a stark contrast to the Euro-centric aristocracy which surrounded him.

    Originally destined for a legal career, Mahmoud Said graduated from the French School of Law in 1919. He worked as a lawyer, prosecutor, and then as judge in Mansouria, Alexandria and Cairo. He resigned from legal work in 1947, to dedicate himself solely to his art.

    Mahmoud Said was taught by the Italian artist, Amelia Casonato Daforno, a resident of Alexandria who had studied at the Florence Academy. Said quickly learnt the classical methods of drawing faces, harmonization of colours and shading. He took further lessons by with another Florentine artist Artoro Zananeri, before leaving for Paris in 1920 for further study.

    Mahmoud Said's crowning achievement was the application of a distinctly European aesthetic to strictly Egyptian and Nationalistic subject matters. Said participated in international exhibitions in Venice, Madrid and Alexandria. He staged exhibitions in New York, Paris, Rome, Moscow, Alexandria and Cairo. He was admitted to the French Legion d'honneur, winning a medal for Honorary Merit in 1951, and in 1960 was the first artist to be awarded the State Merit Award for Arts by Egyptian President Gamal Abdul-Nasser.
Mahmoud Said (Egypt, 1897-1964) Le Chômeur (The Vagabond)
Mahmoud Said (Egypt, 1897-1964) Le Chômeur (The Vagabond)
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