August 15, 2021 · 12:38 pm
At the Musée des 30 années (Museum of the 1930s) on the outskirts of Paris I came across the above maquettes. The two sculptures are each about the size of a suitcase. I stopped to look at them because they’re beautifully streamlined examples of Art Deco styling. Then I glanced at the information on the plaque and was surprised to read they were working models for a proposed monument to the defence of the Suez Canal. What monument? What defence? So, of course, I went straight to Google and it transpires the monument was actually built, and there it stands, forty metres high, the height of a tower block, beside the Suez Canal near Ismailia. To my embarrassment, the author of guidebooks to Egypt for Lonely Planet and National Geographic, I’ve never seen it. Never even knew of its existence.
It’s the work of Raymond Delamarre (1890–1986), a French sculptor, known particularly for his war memorials, and the French architect Michel Roux-Spitz. Together they won a competition organised in 1925 by the Suez Canal Company to produce a monument celebrating the force of British, Egyptian, French and Italian troops who in 1915 repulsed an attack on the Canal by the Ottoman Turkish army. The monument takes the form of two huge winged angels in rose granite placed at the base of two pylons. The angels carry flaming torches and stand, in Delamarre’s words as ‘guardians of the country’s destiny’. The monument is designed be seen by ships passing through the Canal. Its inauguration took place on 3 February 1930. A special medal was struck to celebrate the event, designed by Delamarre himself.
That makes a second reason to head back out to Ismailia next time I’m in Egypt (the first being George’s restaurant, of course).
You can find out much more about the project here (in French but with some great images). Click here for a post on that other piece of impressive French sculpture originally also intended for the Suez Canal.
March 17, 2020 · 4:06 pm
It’s been around for a little while, but I’ve just reviewed James Parry’s Orientalist Lives: Western Artists in the Middle East 1830–1920 for UK art journal The Burlington Magazine. Even if James wasn’t a personal friend (and the book’s publisher, AUC Press, also the publisher of my books), I’d still have given it a rave review. The book covers a lot of the same ground as Grand Hotels, namely Westerners in Egypt (and in James’s case, in North Africa and throughout the Middle East) in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and what they got up to. But whereas in my books I’m mainly writing about tourists and journalists, James focuses on the artists. He’s really good on the practicalities of life on the road for a budding Orientalist, whether it is house-hunting in 19th-century Cairo, the pros and cons of adopting native dress, or the difficulties of over-coming local suspicion when recruiting models – which the English painter John Frederick Lewis attempted to get around by purchasing an Abyssinian woman he liked the look of. The choice of illustrations is excellent, particularly the inclusion of many little-seen self- and group portraits from the artists’ sketchbooks, which have a breeziness and sense of fun badly lacking in the works the same artists produced for public consumption.
In the epilogue James writes about the fortunes of Orientalist art over the last half century, noting how it spent much of the 20th century out of favour, hidden in storerooms and basements, but how it’s now making headlines in the auction salesrooms, largely thanks to the interest from collectors in the Arab world. In fact, Egyptian businessman Shafik Gabr funded the research and production of this book, and it draws heavily – although far from exclusively – on paintings held in the Shafik Gabr Collection. The only shame is, like many AUC Press titles, you need to have Gabr-like amounts of money in order to buy this book.
February 24, 2019 · 4:49 pm
In January 1869, exactly 150 years ago, Miss Riggs joined Thomas Cook’s very first tour to Egypt and the Holy Land. Travelling overland, the journey would take three months, there and back. Miss Riggs kept a diary of her adventure and I am going to be posting from it over the coming weeks. This is day thirty.
Tuesday, 23 February
Left Edfou at 5 in the morning for Assouan, there by 4. Saw the Prince of Wales steamers and the one the Viceroy had conveyed the Prince in. He and his party had left that morning in dahabeahs for the 2nd Cataract, so we have missed them again – count Bismark was there – we started off at once across the deep sand for the bazaars; hardly repaid one. On the return most gorgeous sunset – sands deep gold and mountain deep violet-red – a colouring I had not seen before – suppose tropical in tint. Dinner at 7.
Egyptian boat above the First Cataract by Oswald Walters Brierly, 24th February 1869
Miss Riggs may have missed the Prince but some of his party remained in Aswan, including the scathing journalist William Howard Russell. “Cook’s tourists have also arrived!” he wrote. “Their steamers are just below us in the stream. The tourists are all over the place. Some are bathing off the banks; others, with eccentric head-dresses, are toiling through the deep sand. They are just beaten by a head in the race! Another day, and the Prince and Princess would have been at their mercy.”
The real issue here was not concern for the privacy of the Prince and Princess, but snobbery. Russell could not bear the thought that the Nile had to be shared with fellow countrymen (and women) of a lower status. “It is a nuisance to the ordinary traveller to have his peace broken,” he wrote, although by “ordinary” he clearly meant upper class. Cook aimed to democratize Nile tourism and in years to come, among a certain class of people, he would be despised for it.
February 16, 2019 · 12:04 pm
Speaking of London’s Great Exhibition of 1851, which I was a few posts ago in relation to St Mark’s church in Alexandria, another of the architects involved in that fantastic project had a strong connection with Egypt and that was Owen Jones.
Educated at England’s Royal Academy, Jones travelled in Egypt (where he joined the party of painter Robert Hay), Greece, Turkey and Spain from 1833 to 1834 making copious notes and sketches along the way. These became the basis for a lifetime’s work as a highly influential writer, architect-decorator and illustrator. He was commissioned to work on the interior arrangements at the Great Exhibition. When the venue for the exhibition, the Crystal Palace, was disassembled moved and reassembled in south London, Owen was tasked with creating a series of decorative courts themed on Egypt (pictured above), Greece, Rome and the Alhambra. He was assisted in this by Egyptologist Joseph Bonomi.
In 1856, Jones published the work for which he is best known, the mesmerising Grammar of Ornament. In this he presents in a series of painted plates key examples of design through the ages from around the world, but particularly the Middle East. It is a sumptuously beautiful thing, available in modern facsimile, which is large, heavy and expensive, but happily also online in the archives of the University of Heidelberg. Go take a look for yourself.
February 3, 2019 · 12:47 pm
A beautiful poster for the Mediterranean services of the Lloyd shipping line, dating from 1934, artist unknown.
October 6, 2018 · 3:28 pm
Poking around in the archives of the American University in Cairo the other week I came across a box labeled “Susan Weeks”. Susan was the wife of Egyptologist Kent Weeks, rediscoverer of the KV 5 tomb in the Valley of the Kings. Susan worked with Kent as part of the Theban Mapping Project, for which she was ceramics expert, registrar, headquarters supervisor, project archivist and chief architect until her tragically premature death in December 2009. The box contained some of her pencil and ink sketches and watercolours. If you’ve ever seen a copy of Kent’s book The Lost Tomb, then you will have seen Susan’s sketches, one of which heads each chapter. Unfortunately, the reproductions in the book are not very good – not in the paperback, anyway – so to see the original pieces is a thrill. Plus the book is in black and white and doesn’t have any colour pieces. Below is a selection of some of the work from the archive, only two of which feature in the book. It’s just a small sampling, pieces I particularly liked, and there is much, much more. It’s a shame the work is so little seen. Maybe one day we’ll get to see it published in a book.
Filed under Art and artists, Egyptologists and Egyptology
Tagged as American University in Cairo, Amon Hotel El Gazira, Kent Weeks, KV5, Luxor Hotel, Queens Hotel Luxor, Susan Weeks, The Lost Tomb, Theban Mapping Project, Winter Palace
January 26, 2018 · 3:21 pm
I bought the wonderful poster that in a slightly Photoshopped form features on the cover of Grand Hotels of Egypt from an auction house in New York. I’ve been on its mailing list ever since. The latest online catalogue pinged into my inbox yesterday and one of the items in a forthcoming 25 February sale caught my eye (see above). According to the catalogue description it is a poster promoting the first aviation meet held in Africa, which was organized by Baron Édouard Empain and took place at Heliopolis. This poster doesn’t include the date, but it was 6–13 February 1910. In other words, just seven years after the historic Wright Brothers flight that marked the birth of powered aviation.
For the purpose of the meet an Egyptian Aero Club was created, and the event was also supported by the Automobile Club of Egypt, the Egyptian Tourism Association and the French Ligue National Aérienne. The head of the organising committee was Prince Ahmed Fouad, who would in 1922 become King Fouad I. A five-kilometre course was laid out in the desert, overlooked by two grandstands, and 12 pilots and 18 planes were entered in the competition. The flyers arrived by ship from France. Several had their planes damaged en route. Among the pilots was the Baroness Raymonde de Laroche, real name Élise Deroche, and the first woman ever to enter an aviation meeting. A total prize fund of 212,000 francs was raised for what would be several days of competitions for distance, speed and altitude. One of the events was the Prix Boghos Pacha Nubar, offering 10,000 francs for a flight from Heliopolis around the Cheops pyramid and back.
The organising committee for the meet
One of the flyers and the Heliopolis meet
The official opening day was Sunday 6 February, a perfect day for flying with a clear sky and no wind. Several pilots went up and made test hops. One landing caused a horse to take fright and it ran over a Mr Tarihaki, who had to be taken to hospital by ambulance. Flying was a new and enormous novelty and the first day of the event drew 40,000 people. The following days were a bit hit and miss: at this time the planes were little more than string and canvas, and any bad weather meant they stayed grounded. One day’s flying was cancelled because of a sandstorm, while heavy winds on another day caused the race to the Pyramids to be called off. Mechanical mishaps and crashes – one pilot crashed four times – kept other aircraft grounded but at least there were no deaths (death being a common occupational hazard for early aviators). You can find out more about the meet here.
As for the poster, it was painted by French artist Marguerite Montaut, who was the wife of a famous French automobile illustrator Ernest Montaut. She specialised in aviation subjects, which she sometimes painted under the pseudonym Gamy, an anagram of her nickname Magy. Here’s some more of her work:
The Heliopolis poster is being sold by Poster Auctions International of New York; the estimate is $1,200 to $1,500, which strikes me as very reasonable given its rarity and historical significance, not to mention its beauty.
Filed under Art and artists, Lost Egypt
Tagged as Automobile Club of Egypt, Baron Empain, Baroness Raymonde de Laroche, early aviation, Egyptian Aero Club, Élise Deroche, Ernest Montaut, Gamy, Heliopolis, Marguerite Montaut
December 29, 2017 · 9:07 pm
So, more about that Parade cover I posted before Christmas. Or, more specifically, more about the person who drew it. Edward Ardizzone (1900–79) was once a hugely popular English artist and illustrator, revered in particular for his series of Little Tim children’s books. During World War II he worked as a war artist, documenting the experiences of soldiers and civilians in England and across Europe. While sketching the devastation caused by the ongoing Blitz in London he was arrested by the Home Guard as a spy. In 1942, the War Office sent Ardizzone to the Middle East. He arrived in Cairo in May during preparations for the Allied offensive at El Alamein. He was given lodgings in Garden City, in a room above the offices of the soldiers’ magazine Parade, for which he did illustrations and that special Christmas cover.
Even before I discovered his Cairo connection, I’d always been an Ardizzone fan. For me, it is his love of the intimate and ordinary, along with his humour. While in Egypt he went out into the desert, attached to the mechanized Second Battalion of the Rifle Brigade, and dutifully recorded scenes of warfare, but I suspect he was much more at home in Cairo. He followed the soldiers into the bazaars and drew them having their photographs taken or shopping for silks and other luxuries to send back home to England where such things were unavailable. In London he was an avid frequenter of pubs, which he celebrated in a wonderful little book called The Local, which is full of his drawings of humble public barrooms and their gossipy, boozy clientele. In Cairo he sought out similar places. He frequented places like Badia’s Casino, Groppi’s and the Gezira Club, which he drew, leaving us tantalizing sketches of the city’s wartime nightlife as experienced by off-duty British officers (all such places were off-limits to common soldiers, of course).
The Bar at Badia’s Casino
The Gezira Club
Light Horse at Groppi’s
Ardizzone also drew a nightclub called Dolls. One of the posts on this site last year featured pages from Schindler’s Guide to Cairo, from 1942/43, and on one of those pages is an ad for ‘Dolls music hall and cabaret’. It’s not somewhere I know anything about but from the guide’s description it sounds quite a joint: on Sharia Malika Farida (these days Abdel Khalek Sarwat), it is described as one of Cairo’s leading cabarets, with a hundred tables and entertainment nightly by the “well-known” Black and White Band. When the cabaret began the dance floor was automatically raised to give everyone the best view.
Ardizzone was in Egypt for just a few months before moving on to Sicily, mainland Italy and Normandy before being discharged from the army in 1945. He lived until 1979 producing masses of work, mostly illustrations for books, but also pieces of commercial advertising and other odd commissions such as an altar piece. Sadly, he is very much out of fashion these days, although there was an excellent exhibition devoted to his work and life here in London last year and, to tie in with it, a superb book Edward Ardizzone: Artist and Illustrator by Alan Powers (Lund Humphries, £40).
December 22, 2017 · 12:24 pm
The cover of Parade magazine, 19 December 1942, entitled “The Soldiers Dream” or “Christmas Eve at the Local” and drawn by Edward Ardizzone. Parade was published in Cairo and distributed to the Allied forces in Egypt and around the Mediterranean. More on Ardizzone and Egypt to come in the New Year. Meanwhile, my own compliments of the season to you.
May 6, 2017 · 9:12 pm
It is a name usually associated with lifts and lists, but in Cairo in the 1930s and ’40s the most prominent Schindler was a printer and publisher of English- and French-language books. From a Downtown office at 41 Sharia Madabegh (now Sharia Sherif), E & R Schindler put out a variety of books on Egyptian subjects, including regularly updated guides to Cairo and Alexandria, along with what were possibly the company’s best-selling titles, Rambles in Cairo and Moslem Builders of Cairo, both by Mrs RL Devonshire. Mrs Devonshire was a rather formidable French lady, born Henriette Caroline Vulliamy, who married a British lawyer, Robert Llewellyn Devonshire, and who was a great expert in Islamic architecture. According to Artemis Cooper in Cairo in the War 1939–1945, a tour of the city’s mosques in her company was a must for any cultivated visitor to Cairo. Mrs RLD was a historic monument in her own right, like Gertrude Stein in Paris. On three afternoons a week, in both world wars, she took members of the armed forces round the major Islamic monuments free of charge.
Schindler’s most curious book, though, was something called From Siwa to Cairo: Across the Libyan Desert with Armoured Cars by Major MTI Dun, dso, mc, ramc. It is not so much the subject matter – a drive across the desert to Siwa and back that took place in late 1932 – as the presentation. An officer in the XIIth Royal Lancers, Major Dun was also a man of culture. His book is part travelogue, part art book. Packaged between golden covers, the pages are embellished with deco-style page ornamentations, woodcuts by members of Cairo’s School of Fine Arts and, running along the bottom of the text, small pen-and-ink sketches of the convoy of 10 Rolls Royce armoured cars, one Leyland radio truck, three Austin Seven cars and a motorcycle making its way across the sands.
The charming convoy drawings are credited to N Strekalowsky, but the book offers no further information about the artist. The expedition was completely uneventful, with no accidents or emergencies – the only action was a football match between the British soldiers and their Egyptian counterparts at Sollum. It’s all a bit of wheeze.
Cairo to Siwa also contains this excellent map (click to enlarge). As the text rightly points out, ‘We know a town better by its buildings and shops than by the names of its streets’ and this map is heavily annotated with all the landmarks that played a role in the lives of many foreign residents in Cairo in the 1930s. You can reconstruct those lives from it: the restaurants Groppi’s, Gattegno, Aval de Venise; Shepheard’s, the Continental-Savoy and National hotels; Davies Bryan, Circurel and Chemla department stores; the bars and restaurants on Alfi Bey Street; and the branches of P&O, Cox & Kings and Thomas Cook for tickets home again. There are a few mysteries too: the lady with her legs astride a building that is being torn apart at the corner of Suleiman Pasha and Fouad al-Awal streets, what’s that about? And the squatting chap with a beard and turban on the corner of Emad ad-Din and Fouad al-Awal? I can get lost for hours here.
Filed under Art and artists, Baedeker and other guides, Travellers' tales
Tagged as Artemis Cooper, Cairo, Cairo in the War 1939–1945, From Siwa to Cairo, Groppi’s, Major MTI Dun, Mrs RL Devonshire, N Strekalowsky, Schindler, Siwa