Two rarely seen sculptures by Egyptian artist Mahmoud Mokhtar are heading to Sotheby’s for auction at this week. The sculptures represent two different periods in Mokhtar’s career and have belonged to the family of politician and collector Hafez Afifi Pasha for 80 years. Together, the sculptures could fetch more than £200,000.
Born in 1891, Mokhtar was a pioneer in the Egyptian art movement and, although his life and career were cut short, he changed the landscape of Egyptian contemporary art. He was among the first class of artists to study at the Egyptian School of Fine Arts in Cairo. After graduating at the top of his class in 1912, Mokhtar moved to Paris to study at the École des Beaux-Arts on a scholarship provided by Prince Youssef Kamal. His unique combination of Egyptian and French styles would become his hallmark.
Before his death in 1934, Mokhtar is thought to have created between 80 and 100 sculptures, although only a few have survived. This is what makes the forthcoming auction of works by Mokhtar that much more exciting.
The earlier of the two works is a 1910 sculpture titled Ibn El Balad. The sculpture depicts a boy, modeled after a local boy in Cairo, with slightly disproportioned features standing atop four steps. It is a prime example of the works Mokhtar created while a student in Cairo, according to Sotheby’s specialist in modern and contemporary Middle Eastern art, who added that it’s an item “any collector should aspire to have.”
The second sculpture, Arous El Nil, is a 1929 work that shows the evolution of Mokhtar’s style and technique. Here, the artist has created a Pharaonic bust of a woman in an elegant combination of Egyptian and Art Deco styles. The bust is similar to the head of a full-length sculpture Mokhtar made in the same year called Bride of the Nile.
Both Ibn El Balad and Arous El Nil were purchased by Afifi Pasha directly from the artist and have remained in his family’s collection for eight decades. Afifi Pasha was once a surgeon before becoming an influential politician who served as the first Egyptian delegate to the United Nations. In 1951, he was appointed as the royal court chief under King Farouk and also served as the head of Bank Misr.
The sculptures head to the auction block for the first time ever from the Afifi Pasha’s family estate. Ibn El Balad and Arous El Nil will be included in Sotheby’s 20th century art and Middle Eastern art auction, which opens on the 23rd of March and will run for a week before