Recreating the Exposition du Caire: 1892

In 1891 four artists in Cairo got together to put on the first Art Exhibition in Cairo. The French Paul Philippoteaux, the Greek Theodore Ralli,  the English Felix Moscheles (also a pioneer of Esperanto) and the Russian Mr. Bogdanoff formed a committee and invited artists who were resident in Cairo or just travelling through to submit their work. It was such a success that they decided to expand it next year and bring in world-renowned artists from Paris.


Ralli and Philippoteaux remained from the original committee but replacing Bogdanoff and Moscheles were the Hungarian Arthur Ferraris and the Russian Prince Dabija (who I believe later went on to become Russian Consul General in Isfahan). The Khedive Abbas Hilmi II was the Patron and the Honorary President was the French Consul the Marquis de Reversaux.


I recently found, in a Belgian bookshop, a copy of the catalogue of this exhibition and, through, it am going to try, as much as is possible, to reunite some of the paintings from this landmark Exhibition in Cairo.


I cannot tell from this book where it was held. The only detail given, other than the names of the works, is that Giuseppe Parvis’ furniture makers helped to decorate the Salon of Watercolours.

The artists are cosmopolitan, coming from places as far apart as America, France, Greece, Russia, Austro-Hungary and Ireland. There is one Egyptian artist in the list (Mohammed Bey Fathi, who exhibited 3 watercolours one of the Tombs of the Caliphs, one of Roda Island and one of a street scene with a mosque). Otherwise the list represents the ruling elite of the country. Lord Cromer’s wife exhibited a watercolour. The painter G. de Martino was presumably the Italian diplomat called Giacomo de Martio and “Maskens” was perhaps the Belgian Consul Leon Maskens.


The subjects of the paintings were, generally, “Orientalist” landscapes or street scenes and were not confined to Egypt. As far as I have been able to discover, none of these paintings are currently in Public collections but by scouring online auction sites it is now possible to bring quite a few of them back together.

The first oil painting I reproduce is Paul Philippoteaux’s Nécropsie d’une momie au musée de Guiseh. It was sold by Peter Nahum in London and was, apparently, previously given as a gift by Kind Fuad to his private dentist in Switzerland. The man who sits langorously at the feet of the mummy is the honorary president of the committee, Marquis de Reversaux.


Another member of the committee also exhibited his work. Theodore Ralli showed, among many other things, a painting called Les confitures de roses à Mégara (Grèce). It was one in a series of Greek themed paintings.


Arthur Ferraris, the new Hunagarian committee member entered several pieces. Among them was a work that was to become one of his best known works: Michmich – un singe savant.

Singe Savant

He also exhibited a picture called La Partie de Dominos, which is presumably this painting by him that somehow ended on sale in Delaware:


His painting marked in the catalogue as Café Arabe could well be this painting of a man reading a newspaper which I found under the name Coffee House, Cairo.

Coffee House

Other pieces available to buy were the American Artist Frederik Arthur Bridgman’s Zora – The Algerian.


I also believe that this piece by Henry Brokmann-Knudsen was there under the title Paysage à Luxor.


I have not found it that easy to find pictures of many of these paintings. In some cases on must settle for prints. For instance, there is a website selling a photographic reproduction of Albert Aublet’s Dans les Pavots (one of the only non-oriental themes on view), which will have to suffice.


Henry Jones Thaddeus, the Irish portrait artist, submitted some prints of his more famous portraits (Gladstone and Pope Leo XIII), which we can find reproduced again in his memoirs.

Gladstone Thaddeus

Leo XIII Thaddeus

Also, although I cannot find a picture of his portrait of Lord Cromer online, he does give an extremely detailed description of how he thought Cromer looked in his memoirs. He says:

“He had the most wonderful complexion that I have ever seen in a man of a mature age; a maiden’s blush of tenderest pink, fading away into ivory white, the blue eyes adding to the harmony of colour. Many a social beauty would sell her soul for such a complexion… his face was a strong one, purely anglo-saxon in type, with something of the bulldog; enough, when he was aroused to make his enemies wish to get out of his way.”

Perhaps that helps conjour an image of what the portrait might be like.

(In a minor aside. Thaddeus also talks about painting a portrait of  the Khedive Abbas Hilmi II at the time. As he was painting it, the Khedive said that he thought it would be a good idea to present it to Queen Victoria as a token of esteem. Thaddeus agreed and arranged to bring it to Windsor Castle himself. Unfortunately for Thaddeus, the Khedive assumed that Queen Victoria would return the favour in some way. However, when Thaddeus tried to convince her to give a reciprocal gift, she claimed that it was her rule not to give gifts to Indian potentates. Despite his pleading that the Khedive was not an Indian potentate but Egyptian, she remained firm and Abbas Hilmi was left with nothing. This is the painting that was given to Victoria. It is still in the Royal Collections:

Royal Collection

In the final category, Architecture, attendees in 1892 were also treated to five of Max Herz’s designs for The 1893 Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition. He was tasked with constructing the controversial Egyptian Street area. Here the audience could get a sneak peek at what it would look like, unaware of the controversy it would cause.


There are still many paintings from this exhibition that I long to see (Lady Cromer’s watercolour of Calcutta, the painting called un crime dans le desert by Achille Lecchi, presumably the son of the Italian Pioneer of Photography Stefano Lecchi of the same name, anything by the Russian Prince Dabija or the pictures of Donkeys in Sohag drawn by Mlle. Shepheard from the famous hotel-owning family).

None-the-less, I hope that trawling the internet for pictures in the catalogue has given a good idea of what kind of things one could expect to see at Cairo second ever Art Exhibition.

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