Mahmoud Said at his studio in Ginaclis, Alexandria, painting Bain de Chevaux a Rosette in 1950. Photo by Henri El Kayem
Mahmoud Said at his studio in Ginaclis, Alexandria, painting Bain de Chevaux a Rosette in 1950. Photo by Henri El Kayem

Chronicling the life and work of Egyptian artist Mahmoud Said



Mahmoud Said was born into high society. His family were rich landowners from Alexandria in Egypt and his father, Mohammed Said Pasha, served as Egyptian prime minister from 1910 to 1914, and again briefly in 1919.

His sister’s daughter, Safinaz Zulficar, became Queen Farida of Egypt, and her reign lasted almost 11 years. Even then, in the early 20th century, as Said simultaneously worked as a top judge and pursued his interest in painting, nobody could have known he would one day be one of the region’s most expensive artists.

In 2010, Said's 1929 painting The Whirling Dervishes achieved a sale price of US$2.5 million (Dh9.3m) in auction at Christie's Dubai, setting a world-record price for the artist and for any Arab work sold at auction.

It was during that sale, which featured 30 works from the collection of Mohammed Said, that Valerie Didier-Hess, client liaison and sales manager at the Christie’s Middle East office in Dubai, became familiar with Said’s works.

“I was enthralled by his paintings, his use of light, colour and subject matter,” says Didier-Hess.

“At the same time I met Hussam Rashwan, who is a prominent Alexandrian collector and a living encyclopaedia on modern Egyptian art. As we were talking, I realised that someone needed to record all this information before it was lost.”

The pair decided to compile a catalogue raisonné for Said, the first-of-its-kind for any Arab artist, and the results were published in December, with an official launch taking place this week in Dubai.

A catalogue raisonné is a fully comprehensive, annotated listing of all the known artworks by a specific artist, and is used as a document of authenticity for third parties. Didier-Hess and Rashwan spent five years tracing every painting, drawing and sketch that Said has ever produced and documenting it in the book.

Next to each piece are the dimensions, annotations made on it or around it by the artist, its current location, provenance, and any exhibitions it appeared in or literature written about it.

The final result, published by Italian publishing giant Skira, is in two volumes. The first, subtitled Paintings, contains 430 paintings, which range in subject from portraits of friends and family often dressed in luxurious western clothing with refined gestures to portraits of "falaheen" or plebeian woman.

His small landscape paintings, particularly those of the Egyptian countryside of which there are several, have also become very important collectors’ items in recent years.

“Mahmoud Said is so special because he did not have one specific style or recognisable subject matter. It is his use of colour that can characterise him but he doesn’t belong to any group, -ism or trend because he influenced himself so much from many different sources,” says Didier-Hess.

She also writes about these influences in one of the several commissioned essays from the many authors that appear in the first volume. The second volume, subtitled Drawings, contains sketches from his notebooks and other drawings, as well as essays translated from Arabic and French written about Said during his lifetime.

It also shows photographs of Said working in his studio, as well as letters, postcards and even his passport.

A key observation between the two volumes is that he did not have one set style or subject.

It was an exhaustive task but one that Didier-Hess hopes will pave the way for the future of art history research in the region.

“I did it because I am passionate about Mahmoud Said’s work, but I also did it because as a westerner I find it very frustrating that we don’t have access to all these paintings and a comprehensive overview of his oeuvre. I am hoping that through Skira and its international network, these copies end up in universities in America and Europe, and that they will inspire others to put together catalogues for other important artists.”

In fact, many others are already following suit. The families of the Iranian calligraphic artist Charles Hossein Zenderoudi and Lebanese-Armenian master Paul Guiragossian are already working on similar catalogues, and a digital archive is being compiled for Chafic Abboud, a renowned Lebanese painter.

“There are a number of reasons why catalogues raisonnés are so important,” says Sultan Al Qassemi, a prominent collector of Arab art and the founder of Barjeel Art Foundation in Sharjah.

“They give us a clear understanding of an artist’s oeuvre and are a legitimate point of reference for every work, including the provenance. In that respect, they are a way of countering the forgeries of the art world.

“Finally, they are important archival and scholarly documents that advance education about any specific artist. I think we need as many catalogues raisonnés as possible. They are vital for safeguarding the legacies of the region’s artists.”

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Sheikh Dhiyab bin Isa (ruled 1761-1793) Built Qasr Al Hosn as a watchtower to guard over the only freshwater well on Abu Dhabi island.

Sheikh Shakhbut bin Dhiyab (ruled 1793-1816) Expanded the tower into a small fort and transferred his ruling place of residence from Liwa Oasis to the fort on the island.

Sheikh Tahnoon bin Shakhbut (ruled 1818-1833) Expanded Qasr Al Hosn further as Abu Dhabi grew from a small village of palm huts to a town of more than 5,000 inhabitants.

Sheikh Khalifa bin Shakhbut (ruled 1833-1845) Repaired and fortified the fort.

Sheikh Saeed bin Tahnoon (ruled 1845-1855) Turned Qasr Al Hosn into a strong two-storied structure.

Sheikh Zayed bin Khalifa (ruled 1855-1909) Expanded Qasr Al Hosn further to reflect the emirate's increasing prominence.

Sheikh Shakhbut bin Sultan (ruled 1928-1966) Renovated and enlarged Qasr Al Hosn, adding a decorative arch and two new villas.

Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan (ruled 1966-2004) Moved the royal residence to Al Manhal palace and kept his diwan at Qasr Al Hosn.

Sources: Jayanti Maitra, www.adach.ae

KEY DATES IN AMAZON'S HISTORY

July 5, 1994: Jeff Bezos founds Cadabra Inc, which would later be renamed to Amazon.com, because his lawyer misheard the name as 'cadaver'. In its earliest days, the bookstore operated out of a rented garage in Bellevue, Washington

July 16, 1995: Amazon formally opens as an online bookseller. Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies: Computer Models of the Fundamental Mechanisms of Thought becomes the first item sold on Amazon

1997: Amazon goes public at $18 a share, which has grown about 1,000 per cent at present. Its highest closing price was $197.85 on June 27, 2024

1998: Amazon acquires IMDb, its first major acquisition. It also starts selling CDs and DVDs

2000: Amazon Marketplace opens, allowing people to sell items on the website

2002: Amazon forms what would become Amazon Web Services, opening the Amazon.com platform to all developers. The cloud unit would follow in 2006

2003: Amazon turns in an annual profit of $75 million, the first time it ended a year in the black

2005: Amazon Prime is introduced, its first-ever subscription service that offered US customers free two-day shipping for $79 a year

2006: Amazon Unbox is unveiled, the company's video service that would later morph into Amazon Instant Video and, ultimately, Amazon Video

2007: Amazon's first hardware product, the Kindle e-reader, is introduced; the Fire TV and Fire Phone would come in 2014. Grocery service Amazon Fresh is also started

2009: Amazon introduces Amazon Basics, its in-house label for a variety of products

2010: The foundations for Amazon Studios were laid. Its first original streaming content debuted in 2013

2011: The Amazon Appstore for Google's Android is launched. It is still unavailable on Apple's iOS

2014: The Amazon Echo is launched, a speaker that acts as a personal digital assistant powered by Alexa

2017: Amazon acquires Whole Foods for $13.7 billion, its biggest acquisition

2018: Amazon's market cap briefly crosses the $1 trillion mark, making it, at the time, only the third company to achieve that milestone

Our legal advisor

Ahmad El Sayed is Senior Associate at Charles Russell Speechlys, a law firm headquartered in London with offices in the UK, Europe, the Middle East and Hong Kong.

Experience: Commercial litigator who has assisted clients with overseas judgments before UAE courts. His specialties are cases related to banking, real estate, shareholder disputes, company liquidations and criminal matters as well as employment related litigation. 

Education: Sagesse University, Beirut, Lebanon, in 2005.

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Started: 2023
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Sector: FinTech
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MATCH INFO

Uefa Champions League semi-final, first leg
Bayern Munich v Real Madrid

When: April 25, 10.45pm kick-off (UAE)
Where: Allianz Arena, Munich
Live: BeIN Sports HD
Second leg: May 1, Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid

The biog

Name: Atheja Ali Busaibah

Date of birth: 15 November, 1951

Favourite books: Ihsan Abdel Quddous books, such as “The Sun will Never Set”

Hobbies: Reading and writing poetry