Ragheb Ayad was born in 1892 into a Coptic family in the neighborhood of Faggala in Cairo. He received his primary education at the École des Frères before joining the School of Fine Arts in Cairo, the year of its creation by Prince Youssef Kamal in 1908. He was among the first students of this new institution along with artists Mahmoud Mokhtar (1891 - 1934), Youssef Kamel (1891 - 1971), Antoine Haggar (1896 - 1962) and Mohammed Hassan (1892 - 1961). After he graduated in 1911, Ayad worked as a drawing teacher at the Coptic Secondary School in Cairo and made several trips to France and Italy. Between 1921 and 1922, Ayad and his friend, the painter Youssef Kamel, agreed on an exchange; in turns each would work as a teacher for one year to finance the other's stay in Italy. In 1925, both Ayad and Kamel received a scholarship to study at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Rome along with their colleague Mohammed Hassan. During that time, Ayad traveled around Italy and visited the cities of Florence, Sienna and Venice where he attended the fifteenth Biennial in 1926. After obtaining his diploma from the Decoration department of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Rome in 1928, he returned to Egypt the following year.
Ayad was the first to propose the idea of creating an Egyptian Academy in Rome on the model of the other foreign academies established in the Italian capital. In 1930, He was appointed as the head of the Decoration department at the School of Applied Arts in Giza where he remained until 1937. Following this appointment, he became professor and director of the Free section of the School of Fine Arts in Cairo that offered evening classes to students who had to work during the day. In 1936, he married the Italian painter Emma Caly (-Ayad), with whom he held several exhibitions in Egypt. Ayad also worked as a curator and played an important role in reorganizing the Coptic museum in 1941. From 1950 to 1955, succeeding Youssef Kamel, he was named director of the Museum of Egyptian Modern Art. During his tenure there, he created a special section in the Museum dedicated to the work of the sculptor Mahmoud Mokhtar, which was inaugurated in 1952.
Ragheb Ayad is one of the leading painters of a generation of Egyptian artists commonly referred to as the pioneers (ar-ruwwād), as they were the first to be educated in artistic institutions established according to European models, such as the School of Fine Arts in Cairo. Ayad broke away from his academic education at the Fine Arts in Cairo and in Rome to create an original folklorist style that distinguishes him from his contemporaries. Throughout his career, he depicted scenes of rural and popular daily life, such as the market place, the labor in the fields and the popular café, as well as traditional practices rooted in Egyptian culture, such as the zār, a Nubian ritual trance dance, or the taḥtīb, an ancestral game of stick fighting practiced in Upper Egypt. He also painted religious scenes and exterior views of the Coptic monasteries.
Ayad mastered the art of sketching and besides his oil paintings, he produced numerous sketches and drawings enhanced with watercolors such as gouache. His expressive style is characterized by the vivacity of his textured strokes that express the dynamic of constant movement, as well as by the use of powerful colors. His work is profoundly marked by the arts of Ancient Egypt: the formal aesthetic of the decorative bas-reliefs and paintings of the tombs and temples of Thebes inspired him to reinvent the ancient system of superposed narrative scenes, which sometimes led him to use horizontal formats. Towards the end of his career, his style progressively evolved towards a purification of lines and stylization of forms. Ayad was also a skilled decorator and painted several interiors of public and private buildings. In 1935, he executed a series of decorative paintings for the old Shepherd Hotel that was unfortunately destroyed in the Cairo fire in 1952. He also participated in the interior decoration of religious buildings such as the Coptic Cathedral of Sohag and the Catholic Churches of Minia and Samalut.
From the 1930's, Ragheb Ayad exhibited regularly at the Cairo Salon founded by the Society of Fine Art Lovers. During his lifetime, he held numerous solo and collective exhibitions in Egypt and abroad. His works are exposed at the Museum of Egyptian Modern Art, the Agricultural Museum in Cairo, the Museum of Fine Arts in Alexandria and at Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art in Doha.
|Retrospective exhibition for the centennial anniversary of his birth organized by Mina Sarufim, Gallery Extra, Cairo, Egypt
|Exposition Egypte-France, Pavillon de Marsan, Paris, France
|Venice Biennial, Italy
|Cairo Salon, Egypt
Awards and Honors
|Egyptian State Merit Award
Modern Egyptian art, pioneers, School of Fine Arts in Cairo, popular life, folkorism, peasantry, Egyptian ancient art.
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