Visiting Princess Aisha Fahmy Palace on the bank of the Nile in Zamalek is always a nostalgic experience of beauty and splendour, recalling Egypt’s belle epoque during the first half of the last century.
The experience of the palace this time is even more unique, as it is hosting an exhibition of neoclassical, Impressionist and post-Impressionist masters of European modern art of the 19th and 20th centuries, including Delacroix, Gauguin, Matisse, Rodin, Monet, Manet, Pissarro and Degas, among others.
Designed by Italian architect Antonio Lasciac, the palace was built in 1907 on an area of 2,700 square metres. The palace was owned by Ali Fahmy, an Egyptian aristocrat and army leader under King Fouad I. After his death, his daughter, Aisha Fahmy, also the wife of famous actor Youssef Wahbi, bought her siblings’ shares in the palace. In the 1970s the building was given to the government and was transformed into a centre of arts, aiming at raising awareness of cultural and artistic heritage.
Marcel-Clément «French», 1873-......, A Crowd in a Square, Oil on canvas, 35x 27 cm, 1921. The Gezira Museum
The current exhibition displays 118 works of art selected from the collection of the most important museums of fine art in Egypt: Cairo Gezira Museum, Mohamed Mahmoud Khalil Museum and the Museum of Fine Art in Alexandria. According to Ihab El Laban, the centre’s director and the curator of the exhibition, the centre is using international standards and practices on safety, both for its visitors and for the artworks hosted.
Mohamed Mahmoud Khalil Museum’s priceless collection includes masterpieces by great artists from Europe from the 19th and 20th century. The majority of the museum’s 208 works are from the Impressionist school.
The whole collection was donated by Mohamed Mahmoud Khalil and his wife, along with their palace overlooking the Nile in Giza, to the Egyptian government. Khalil was agriculture minister in 1934, and was also a great patron of art.
Constant Troyon «French», 1830 _ 1903, Pastures, Oil on canvas, 38.5x 57 cm. Mohamed Mahmoud khalil Museum
The Museum of Fine Arts in Alexandria houses a collection of works by Egyptian artists and a selection of works in the Baroque, Romantic, Rococo and Oriental styles. It was started in 1904 when the Alexandria Municipal Authorities received a collection of paintings as a gift from Edward Farid Heim. In 1936, the French trader Baron de Menasha donated a villa in Moharram Bek to house the collection. The building was destroyed in World War II and rebuilt in 1949.
It houses three main important collections. They are the Heim Collection, the Orientalists collection donated by Mahmoud Khalil, and the third collection, a contribution of the Cairo Museum of Modern Art, as well as other private art patrons, artists and foreign collectors.
Cairo Gezira Museum’s priceless collection includes the royal family collection gathered from the royal palaces and confiscated after the 1952 revolution, among which are rare works of Western modern art.
“These collections of 19th century and 20th century Western art represent a less well-known part of Egypt’s cultural heritage -- one that needs to be rediscovered by being thoroughly documented and by being showcased and put into context,” said Valerie Hess, specialist in Impressionist and Modern Art at Christie’s Paris.
Charles Cottet «French», 1863 _ 1925, Heads of Women from Bretonnes, Oil on cardboard, 36.5x 57 cm. Mohamed Mahmoud Khalil Museum (1)
“Shedding light on these precious treasures that have not been shown to the public for decades will place those museums of Egypt alongside major international institutions and raise awareness of the richness and variety of Egypt’s cultural heritage and history,” she added.
Such strong provenance adds value and importance to the collection as a result of the related history and culture background, which needs to be highlighted and properly documented. A strategic plan to renovate our museums to world-class standards of layout design and curatorship is highly required, in order to display our cultural richness and preserve our heritage. Nowadays, digital online platforms represent a great opportunity to spread knowledge, awareness and exposure, and as such they are often used by museums around the world.
Unravelling our national treasures from Western modern art and putting them in the right context would position Egypt as an important destination of world finest art collections, and would raise awareness of Egypt’s cultural role in modern and present times. In addition, this will help raise appreciation and recognition among new generations and art appreciators of Egypt’s cultural influence, thus paving the way to cultural development and highlighting Egypt’s role as a significant international and regional player on the art scene.
Camille Pissarro «French», 1830 _ 1903, The Washerwomen, Oil on canvas, 65 x 81 cm. Mohamed Mahmoud Khalil Museum
Alfred Sisely «French», 1839 _ 1899, Rustic life in the end of May, Oil on canvas, 54.5x 73 cm. Mohamed Mahmoud khalil Museum
Charles Jacque «French», 1840 _ 1917, Eva, Bronze, 73x 28.5x21 cm.
For more arts and culture news and updates, follow Ahram Online Arts and Culture on Twitter at @AhramOnlineArts and on Facebook at Ahram Online: Arts & Culture