A pioneer of pastel painting
This year's Heliopolis Fine Arts Exhibition is honouring Egyptian artist Mohamed Sabri, a pioneer of painting in pastels, writes Nagwa El-Ashri
Haroun El-Touni, chair of the Heliopolis Sporting Club, inaugurated the 34th Fine Arts Exhibition at the Club this week, an event which has been going since 1978. This year's exhibition was curated by Esmeralda Haddad, and the inauguration was attended by Hamdi Abul-Maati, president of the Fine Artists Syndicate, MP Amr Hamzawy, and actress Basma.
Some 50 artists had paintings, sculptures, photographs and mosaic works in the exhibition. The guest of honour this year was Mohamed Sabri, a pioneer of painting in pastels, with two of his recent pieces being shown, one of river boats in Aswan and another of a street scene in a popular neighbourhood. Mohamed Sabri himself was unfortunately not able to attend the exhibition for health reasons.
Among other artists whose work was on show were Salah al-Meligi, head of the Fine Arts Sector of the ministry of culture, Esmeralda Haddad, Samir Fouad, Abu Bakr El-Nawawi, Sabri Nashed, Emad Ibrahim, Fares Mohammad Fares, George Bahgoury, Gamil Shafiq, Merkem Hunein, Adel Thabet, Hoda Morad, the Club's resident curator, Khaled al-Semahi, Lotfi Abu Samra, Mervet El-Shazli, Mostafa Abdel-Fattah, Omar Abdel-Zaher, Omar El-Fayoumi and Madiha Mewalli.
Sabri himself was born in Cairo on 21 December 1917, obtaining a diploma in applied arts in the city before going to Spain in 1950 to join the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Madrid, where he studied painting. In 1954, Sabri returned to Spain, this time to take part in a two-year programme in restoration. He has been an important figure on the Egyptian art scene since 1936.
Sabri is considered to be a pioneer in painting in pastels, though in his works he uses a range of materials and has maintained a fresh outlook, as if drawing on an endless supply of inspiration. His interest in Egyptian subjects has been noticeable in almost every exhibition he has held since 1936, when he took part in the 16th Cairo Salon organised by the Society of Fine Art Lovers.
"A Young Wife," one of Sabri's earliest paintings, was exhibited in the 20th Cairo Salon in April 1940. It was shown again in his first solo exhibition in April 1943 and also in his second exhibition in March 1946. In both exhibitions, Sabri showed paintings having a social focus, such as "Midnight," "Good Morning," "Friday," and "A Religious Lesson."
Sabri studied for two years at the Luxor Atelier (1948-1949), a time he considers to be a unique period in his life during which he finished many paintings depicting the ruins of Medinet Habu, the Ramesseum, the Karnak Temple and the Valley of the Kings. His depictions of the village of Gourna and of various mountain and river scenes in Upper Egypt are well known to all art lovers.
A further trip to Spain in 1961 allowed Sabri to tour the Islamic monuments in Cordoba, Granada, Seville and Malaga. In 1962, his paintings of such monuments in Andalusia were shown in Madrid, London, Rome and Frankfurt to much critical acclaim, even if Sabri himself continued to spend his summers in the old districts of Cairo, mostly in a house in Khosh Qadam. His impressions of old Cairo and his paintings of Egypt's popular districts shine with beauty and compassion.
Sabri travelled to the High Dam during its construction in the early 1960s, and one of his paintings of it was offered as a gift from the Egyptian parliament to the USSR as a token of appreciation for Soviet help in the construction of the Dam.
In addition to this major project, Sabri has also recorded other important events in the recent history of Egypt in his paintings, including in works entitled "The Battle of Port Said," "The Great Crossing," "The Peace Speech" and "The Cairo Treaty."
An accomplished portraitist, Sabri has produced many important portraits, including "The Coppersmiths." Despite the large number of important works he has completed over a long artistic career, Sabri has sometimes been heard to complain that "time is too short" to do all that he wants to do, as he wrote in the catalogue for the Egyptian Vision exhibition held in April 2007 at the Opera House in Cairo.
Sabri has been given countless awards, including a knighthood from the Spanish government in 1961 and the Spanish Queen Isabella Medal in 1988. He won first prize in the painting category at the Autumn Salon in Madrid in 1964, and he has been a member of the Spanish Royal Academy of Fine Arts since 1967, the only Arab artist to be awarded this honour.
Sabri won Egypt's State Merit Award in 1997, adding to the Gold Medal for Painting he was awarded in 1948 and the First Prize for Painting he won at the Luxor Atelier in the same year. In 1949, Sabri was awarded the Gold Medal for Painting at that year's Industrial Fair, and his work continues to be bought by private collectors and public collections worldwide.