The Definitive Guide to Living in the Capital , Cairo , Egypt

Arts & Culture

Mr. & Mrs. Mahmoud Khalil Museum:Take a Step Back In History

Mr. & Mrs. Mahmoud Khalil Museum:Take a Step Back In History
    written by
    Lena Alsayegh

    Mohammed Mahmoud
    Khalil was a prominent politician, minister of agriculture, and speaker of the
    senate. He purchased this 1915 Nile-side
    mansion with his French wife, Emiline Lock, whom he met while studying law at
    the Sorbonne in Paris. They both had a passion for all things
    French, and together amassed a collection of art that is unique in Egypt
    and one of the most extensive and most valuable private collections
    worldwide. Today, the mansion is a
    museum where the public can enjoy the precious art collection once reserved for
    elite eyes only.

    The mansion was
    built in Art Nouveau, Art Deco, and Neo-Classical styles, with a grand stained
    glass window over the staircase attributed to a French artist.   The four-level house displays Khalil’s
    collection on three of them, and the powder blue walls with gold accents are
    the perfectly atmospheric place to exhibit such a collection.

    The impressive collection
    consists of 208 works, mostly of French Impressionists. The collection began
    with Khalil’s first purchase of a Renoir for 400LE. Other works of art include pieces by Monet,
    Toulouse-Lautrec, Pissaro, Gaugiun, Ingres, Van Gogh and Rodin.  

    At the time of our
    visit, two of the pieces were touring Italy , and the museum has a special
    room dedicated to its most expensive painting, Gauguin’s Life and Death; estimated at a cool US$85 million. The second most valuable, Van Gogh’s Poppy Flowers– currently on tour– is a
    not-too-shabby US$55 million.  

    Khalil also
    collected vases, perfume bottles and ceramics from China,
    Japan and Iran. His collection includes
    statues of bronze, marble and gypsum, a rare selection of tobacco boxes in
    Japanese style, and miniatures by Chinese artists in precious stones.

    Highlights of the
    collection include Monet’s Bridge Over
    Water Lilies
    and another of his Westminster
    series, one of Ingres’ elegantly elongated Odalisques, one each of Rodin’s famously rustic The Thinker and The Kiss, and Khalil’s very first painting– Renoir’s Young Woman Wearing a White Tulle Tie. One of our favourites is Fromentin’s oil
    painting of a young group of African girls lounging by the Nile

    Khalil’s love of
    art also saw him as an active participant in Egypt ’s 20th century fine arts
    scene; he nurtured and enriched the cultural movement in a myriad of ways. He co-founded and chaired the Society of
    Lovers of Fine Arts, was the Commissaire-General of the Egyptian Pavilion at
    the International Exhibition of Art in Paris in
    1937, and co-organised the French Exhibition of Fine Arts and Décor in Cairo in 1938.  

    His activities
    were later rewarded with the title of Correspondent of the French Academy of
    Fine Arts in 1948, and his sponsorship of the exhibition of décor Egypt-France held
    in Paris in 1949 led to his being elected a member of the French Academy of
    Fine Arts later that year.

    When Mohammed
    Khalil died in 1953, Ambassador Couve de Murville eulogised him during the
    embassy’s traditional New Year’s address by saying, ’France
    had lost its best friend ever in Egypt.’  

    bequeathed her inherited mansion to the state, and after her death in 1960, the
    museum was inaugurated in 1962 by the Minister of Culture. When Anwar Sadat became president, he took
    over the mansion for his offices, built a helipad on the premises, moved in
    next door, and stored the artworks in Prince Amr Ibrahim’s palace– now the
    Islamic Ceramics Museum in Zamalek.   The art collection remained there for twenty
    years. After Sadat’s death, the
    mansion’s future became uncertain, but twelve years later in 1995, the museum
    was re-inaugurated and restored in its original setting.

    The restoration
    also added a cafeteria, a gift shop and a modern lecture theatre for film
    screenings and cultural activities. There is also a state-of-the-art gallery called the Ofouq One Gallery on
    the museum’s grounds, which is reserved for travelling exhibits.  

    the Museum is of Egypt ’s most unique galleries and still the only
    public place in Egypt
    to hold these painters’ priceless works of art. The museum will be closing for two-year
    renovations later this year. Go take a
    peek in its current form while you still can, but avoid mornings when it’s
    swarming with tour groups; enjoy a peaceful afternoon visit instead.

    Hours are 10AM-5PM, with the last
    tickets sold at 4PM. Tickets cost 25LE for foreigners,
    12LE for expats, 5LE for Egyptian residents, and 1LE for Egyptian resident students. As with many museums, it is closed on Mondays. To arrange group tours,
    contact museum director Reem Bahir at 23338986.