LONDON: An outstanding sculpture by the renowned Egyptian artist Mahmoud Mokhtar is up for sale at Sotheby’s 20th Century Art/Middle East auction in London on April 30.
“The Three Beggars” — one of only two known examples of the work (the other being in the collection of the Mokhtar Museum, Cairo) — is up for sale for the first time. It is a prime example of the artist’s use of his classical training to sculpt figures from Egyptian culture and Islamic history.
Ashkan Baghestani, Sotheby's Head of Sale for Arab and Iranian, Modern & Contemporary Art, described the bronze to Arab News.
“This sculpture by Mokhtar is a true rarity, and it is such a thrill to see something quite so distinctive by one of the most pioneering and beloved sculptors of the Middle East,” he said. “Often the artist’s works are very polished, with sleek organic lines, but here we see a very different way of sculpting — the rough and immediate texture lending the piece an undeniable gravitas. It is important to note that not very many pieces by the artist are offered at auction and this one is completely fresh to the market, made all the more desirable by the fact that it is coming directly from the descendants of Mokhtar’s own teacher, Jules-Félix Coutan.”
The artist, widely regarded as “the father of modern Egyptian sculpture,” gifted the work to Coutan, whose sculptures adorn the facade of the Grand Central Terminal in New York, in the 1930s.
The composition of three bronze men echoes Rodin’s “Three Shades,” a work with which Mokhtar would have been familiar. Instead of simply copying the French master’s work, however, he reworks and repurposes the composition to express his own identity through the recognizable Egyptian clothing of the figures.
Many of Mokthar’s works are symbolic. They are not portraits of specific people, but representations of larger ideas. The fact that this work eventually ended up with his teacher, Coutan, frames this work perhaps as an allegory of the transmission of knowledge. The bearded man with the walking stick knows the path and calls out, and the younger men follow his lead. In their vulnerable state, they lean on each other for guidance and support.
The piece is expected to fetch between $105,000 and $158,000 at auction.