Appearing at auction for the first time, this sumptuous painting by Mahmoud Saïd depicts the Quranic icons, Adam and Eve as two imposing, almost surreal, figures within a lush desert oasis. Saïd is renowned the founder of modern Egyptian art during a time of intellectual renaissance in the country, and this daring and vivid work from 1937 perfectly encapsulates the dialogue between the history of art in Europe and the sensuous qualities of the prevailing Egyptian spirit. Adam and Eve will highlight Sotheby’s 20th Century Art / Middle East auction on 24 April, when it will be offered with an estimate of £300,000-500,000.

Ashkan Baghestani, Sotheby’s Contemporary Arab and Iranian Art Specialist and Head of Sale, said: ‘Seminal in its subject matter and the sheer force of painting, Mahmoud Saïd’s unique depiction of Adam and Eve is one of the most important works by the artists to ever appear at auction. The painting embodies so many spheres of influence – from the works of Egyptian antiquity to the grand style of the European Old Masters and his own glorious depictions of the lush landscape of the Nile. Having remained unseen for a quarter of a century, we are thrilled to be bringing this glorious work to auction this April.’

Mahmoud Saïd, Adam & Eve, 1937. Est. £300,000-500,000.

‘Mahmoud Saïd created an image of Egypt, as Goya created of Spain, and Degas that of the ballerinas and Seurat that of the circus’
Inspired by Old Masters such as Lucas Cranach, Baroque artists Peter Paul Rubens and Rembrandt and the romantic fantasies of modernist Paul Cezanne, Mahmoud Saïd drew on a plethora of influences in a continuous quest for the ‘magical light’ derived from an Egyptian consciousness. His works had the unparalleled ability to enchant and entice, romanticising Egyptian subjects in a characteristically whimsical and dream-like fashion.

Bringing to life ripened palm trees, the pooling blue canals of the Nile and rolling sand dunes in the distance, Saïd places these historic figures firmly in an idyllic yet familiar Egyptian landscape. By introducing a universal Biblical subject, juxtaposed with the traditional backdrop of Egypt, the artist encourages the viewer – be it the aristocracy or the general public – to imagine themselves as equal and important as the Western Orientalist would. Indeed, painted at a time where there was a rising tide in the population for a state of their own, this painting can be seen as an allegory of the dream of an independent Egyptian nation.

Adam and Eve are portrayed as two halves of humanity, denoted by their contrasting hues – implying more than merely a visual reliance on each other. Here, they symbolise the evolution of relationships between men, women and their environment. Downplaying the conventional dominant male figure, the painting instead emphasises the feminine grace of Eve – placing Adam in an endearing, supportive role. Saïd’s models embodied a pure and intrinsic ideal of Egyptian beauty, and here Eve’s innocence is accentuated as she points to the head of a white dove. Adam gently touches her abdomen, signifying fertility and new beginnings in an empowering message.

A vibrant and exciting international platform for modern and contemporary art from North Africa, Turkey, the Middle East and Iran in London, Sotheby’s 20th Century Art / Middle East auction in April will once again star highly-sought after masterpieces. The auction features rarely seen seminal works by celebrated figures with a strong institutional presence.