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Reception for the Shafik Gabr Orientalist Art Collection
Harold Pratt House and Peterson Hall at the Council of Foreign Relations
November 12, 2008


Written by Wendy R. Williams
Photo Credit Patrick McMillan

Opposite Photo:
Gigi and Shafik Gabr

The Book Cover

Mr. and Mrs. M. Shafik Gabr held a private reception at the Harold Pratt House and Peterson Hall at the Council of Foreign Relations to celebrate the launch of Mr. Gabr's splendid book about his collected works of Orientalist art, The Shafik Gabr Collection. The term Orientalist art describes the paintings of middle eastern scenes and subjects made by American and European artists in the 18th and 19th century such as Ludwig Deutsch, Jean-Léon Gérôme, Fredrick Arthur Bridgman, and Gustav Bauernfeind. During the reception, pieces of art from the collection were shown in slides throughout the beautiful library and hall. The book has been published privately and given to friends of Gabr's (we were given a copy that night). It will be published and sold in the fall of 2009.

In the Introduction to The Shafik Gabr Collection, the curator, Dina Nasser-Khadivi, states that, "I first met Mr. Gabr when I was working as a specialist at Christies....It was however not until I was sent to Cairo to see the entire collection that I fully appreciated what a discerning collector Shafik Gabr is. Once I was able to the see his collection in person and most importantly in its entirety, I realized that here was a collection of Orientalist paintings of world importance."

The paintings in the book cast forth a siren's call to the east, reminding this viewer of the awe the painters must have felt when they first saw the wonders of such an exotic world and time. From the lush innocence of Frederick Arthur Bridgman's Preparations for the Wedding, Algiers to the knowing "Paris Hilton has nothing on me" expression in the eyes of the pottery seller in Elisabeth Jerichau-Baumann's An Egyptian Pottery Seller near Gizeh, the paintings never fail to enchant and inform. Each section of the book is introduced by an essay by a curator: Gerald M. Ackerman; Kristian Davies; Briony Llewellyn; Ellen K. Morris; Lynn Thornton; and Emily M. Weeks.

Mr. Gabr (according to the press release, Jonathan Marder & Associates) is: "Chairman and Managing Director of ARTOC Group for Investment and Development, a multi-disciplined investment holding company headquartered in Mokattam Heights, Cairo, Egypt." Mr. Gabr and his charming wife, Gigi, make frequent trips to the United States and have many friends in the US. Some of the over two hundred attendees at the reception were business and diplomatic associates of the Gabr's; but many were also long time friends including his childhood friends, the O'Callaghan family.

According to the press release: "Guests flew in from four continents. Among them from the Middle East were HH Princess Lubna Al Saud, Simone Monasenbian, Hoda Zahid, and Shaker Khayat. Joining them was the Egyptian Ambassador to the U.N. Maged Abdelaziz and U.N. Ambassadors Nicholas Veliotes and Mike Smith. With still more guest coming from as far away as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Switzerland, Great Britain, and Columbia. New Yorkers in attendance included the chairman of Sotheby's auction house, James Niven, fashion designer Mary McFadden, and Faberge CEO Georgette Mosbacher."

Peter Trippi, the editor of Fine Art Connoisseur and former director of the Dahesh Museum of Art, gave a brief introduction to the Gabr's and the book stating: “The Shaifk Gabr Catalogue will be of invaluable help to scholars and institutions interested in Orientalism.” Mr. Gabr then spoke about his love for art and his wish that in a world where sometimes we are being pulled apart, that we can come together through the medium of art. (Be sure to scroll down and read Mr. Gabr's thoughtful forward to the book.)

Sameh and Susie Shoukry, Gigi and Shafik Gabr,
Wendy Goldsmith and Daniel Clemente

Catharine and David Hamilton, Mary McFadden and Edward Batista

Princess Lubna Al-Saud, Amira Addeladiz, Susie Shoukry,
Edward Batista and Sally Kader

Cathy Hardwick and Mary McFadden
Cece Cord and David Niven
Christine Layng, Randon Silver,
Betsy Thomas and Peter Trippi
Dina Nasser Khadidi
and Nazanine Azima
Georgette Mosbacher, Gigi Gabr
and Barbara Winston
Michael Heredia

Mohammed Ramzi, Jennifer Green and Ali Hasan Rahman

Danya Rossi and Allen Rossi

John Matthews and Lyn Paulsin

Shafik Gabr and Leo Kramer

Ford Fraker, Shafik Gabr and Gregory Flynn

The O'Callaghan Family

Here the forward Mr. Gabr wrote for the book:

The Shafik Gabr Collection

Shafik Gabr

I am proud to be able to write a foreword to this book, a record of my collection of Orientalist paintings. For me it is more than simply a collection of paintings; it represents a personal journey I have made, a passion I have, and a message I want to pass on.

From my earliest childhood, as the son of an Ambassador, I have always traveled widely, and delighted in discovering and learning about other cultures. But I believe that the art of travel, that particular way of standing back and looking at the world, starts in your own neighborhood. As a young man I traveled around Egypt, the Middle East, and Africa with my heavy cameras, and I recorded images of many lands. At about the same time I discovered, and began to collect, old photographs from mainly nineteenth-century travelers to Egypt.

It was not until 1993, however, that my eye turned to the painters that over one hundred years earlier had traveled many of the same routes as me and my cameras. I remember, almost like the way you always remember your first love, the first paintings I brought. It was in Paris that I acquired Ludwig Deutsch’s Egyptian Entering a Temple.

This was a new phase for me. I had caught the collector’s bug. I set out to discover all I could about the Orientalist painters and paintings. I visited museums and private collections, I talked to experts, I read about the art and, with patience, perseverance and at times boldness, I acquired my paintings little by little until now I have over eighty very special pieces in my collection.

Another aspect of my collection is its message. My roots are in the Middle East. I am proud of my heritage. It is a region of the world that pre-dates the classical world of the great Greco-Roman cultures, and as such I regard it as the cradle of civilization and religion.

The Middle East has always been a crossroads between East and West. But it is a meeting place that is so often – from the Crusades of the Middle Ages to the conflicts described in our newspapers and on our screens today – stained with blood. It is a place that some visitors have chosen to exploit. Today it is natural resources, predominantly oil; in the nineteenth century it was our artistic heritage. The museums of London, Paris and capitals the world over, are home now to Egyptian treasures.

Important through the work of those early Egyptologists was, very often their explorations were carried out with dubious intensions. But, at the same time as they were digging in the desert, some of their fellow countrymen were carrying their canvases, easels and whole-plate cameras, even heavier than mine, around the country. Maybe that is why I feel a deep respect for, and affinity with, the artists of my collection. Theirs was not a world of greed and exploitation: they were respectful onlookers. They could sit at a street corner and paint, as Ludwig Deutsch did in A Gathering around the Morning News, Cairo and find in a seemingly mundane and everyday scene (that you can still see in Cairo’s streets today) something that touches the essence of our culture. Others, such as the prolific Scotsman David Roberts, chose to focus on our architectural treasures, such as the Pharaonic temples, while my works by Émile Deckers show the Belgian artist’s fascination with the people and faces of North Africa. Sometimes it is just a pose or a way of sitting that speaks volumes about our culture as seen in Gustavo Simoni’s Musicians. At other times, it is the quality of light or colour that to the Western eye represents all that is exotic and romantic about the Orient. Paul Joanovitch’s Snake Charmer for instance, to an Egyptian might be an everyday street scene, but it takes on a deeper significance through the Austrian artist’s brushwork.

North Africa is the main theme that prevails in my collection. However, I have added some important pieces which are also inspired from other regions. In A Street Scene, Damascus, Gustav Bauernfeind included a depiction of himself in the crowd, as if he wanted to convey his personal experience in the Syrian capital. This works is the only self-portrait to have been recorded in the German master’s œuvre, and as a result I chose to acquire it as it not only represents a beautiful example of Orientalism but it is also unique. The Blue Mosque, based on the Rustem Pasha Mosque in Istanbul, shows in turn an ethnographic approach to Orientalism and included the beautiful blue Ottoman tiles Jean-Léon Gérôme was so renowned for depicting, Egypt might have been the French master’s main source of inspiration, yet I chose this piece to be part of my collection as it was so characteristic of his most exceptional works which these days can only be found in museums.

In addition to these pieces, several artists in my collection used their brushes in unique ways, such as for instance Rudolf Weisse (Weiss) in The Collector, Johann (Jean) Discart in The Connoisseurs or Fredrick Arthur Bridgman in Preparations for the Wedding, Algiers which not only conveys the American Orientalists’ infatuation with the customs and traditions of Algeria but also the shift in Art History towards Impressionism. Finally Deutsch’s majestic palace guards have always represented for me one of the greatest tours de force of nineteenth-century Orientalism, and as a result I acquired a few along the years among his other works.

Whatever it was they chose to paint, these artists were fascinated by the anxious to record our world, our customs, our architecture, our habits. We owe them a great debt, because although much of what they saw lives on today in our streets and villages, we constantly need to be reminded of the richness and value of our culture.

There is no doubt in my mind that the artworks in my collection are more superb examples of the painters’ art – they have been carefully selected to contribute to the message that pervades my life’s work, which is a lesson that I first learnt from my grandfather who taught me the importance of working for and helping your own community: we should be proud of our own heritage, we ignore our roots at our peril, and above all, we should, as these artists did, respect the cultures of others.

I am pleased that some of the most respected scholars in this field have kindly contributed to this book.

My last words must be to my wife and daughter, to thank them for their patience with this, my indulgence; and to my dear late parents, to whom this book is dedicated, for fostering me in a lifetimes’ appreciation of travel and discovery.

Villa Gabr
Mokattam Hills, Cairo
July 2008



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