Mohammed Seif al-Din Wanly was born into an aristocratic family of Turkish origin on his father's side, Ismaïl Bey Mohammed Wanly, and of Caucasian origin from his mother, Ismat Hanem al-Daghistani. He grew up with his four sisters and his younger brother, Adham, in an intellectual francophone environment. They were educated by private tutors in their family house, the Urfan Pacha Palace located in the neighborhood of Muharram Bey in Alexandria. Seif worked as a public official at the customs archives of Alexandria and started painting with his brother, Adham. In 1929, Ottorino Bicchi (1878 - 1949), an Italian painter from Livorno, opened a studio in Alexandria and the Wanly brothers were among his first students. After Bicchi left Egypt in 1934, Seif and Adham established their own studio in Alexandria the following year together with their friends, the painter Ahmad Fahmi and the filmmaker Mohammed Bayoumi.
During the 1950's, the two brothers traveled regularly to Europe and visited France, Italy and Spain where they sketched and painted numerous scenes of ballet, opera and theater performances, as well as landscapes. When sculptor Ahmad Osman (1907 - 1970) established the Faculty of Fine Arts in Alexandria in 1957, Seif was appointed professor within the painting department. In 1959, the Ministry of Culture commissioned the Wanly brothers along with many artists of their generation, such as Tahiya Halim and Hussein Bikar, to record the architectural heritage of Nubia before its flooding due to the construction of the High Dam in Aswan. The same year, when his brother Adham passed away, Seif lived through a difficult period, which was reflected in his work. At the age of sixty-eight, he married the Egyptian painter Ihsan Mokhtar. He died in 1979 in Stockholm where he was preparing an exhibition of his Scandinavian landscapes.
The Wanly brothers were very close in their life and work. They influenced one another and developed a similar style. Seif only used his first name to sign his paintings while his brother, Adham, signed them by the name of Wanly or E. Wanly (Edham Wanly). Together, they introduced modern pictorial trends in Alexandria and were among the first to depict international subjects, breaking away from the folklorist style of their contemporaries.
Seif was a prolific artist who produced more than a thousand paintings, as well as numerous drawings and sketches. His early works are inspired by the use of the light and gentle strokes of his Italian professor, Ottorino Bicchi, who was close to the Italian Macchiaioli and the École de Barbizon. Later in his career, Seif used larger surfaces of bold colors and exercised greater freedom in his compositions, both of which brought him closer to Fauvism.
Seif was fascinated by the performance arts and depicted scenes of circus, ballet, opera, music concerts, bull-fighting as well as all types of sports, including horse races. He represented the life of the performers on stage and backstage by expressing their vivid and dynamic movements. His fascination with performance arts also led him to design several sets for theater and opera productions in Egypt. He painted numerous views of traditional Nubian villages before they were flooded, as well as many landscapes of Egypt and all the countries he visited, including Spain, France, Italy, Yugoslavia, Poland and Russia. Seif is also the author of a series of self-portraits that reflect his sense of humor and derision. Following the death of his brother, Adham, which affected him profoundly, he introduced a darker palette of colors and shades in his paintings. His works can be seen at the Seif and Adham Wanly Museum hosted in the villa of the Mahmoud Saïd Museum in Alexandria, the Museum of Fine Arts in Alexandria, the Museum of Egyptian Modern Art in Cairo, the Mathaf Arab Museum of Modern Art in Doha, as well as in numerous private collections around the world.
|1959 ||Alexandria Biennial, Egypt|
|1958||Sao Paolo Biennial, Brazil|
|_____||Alexandria Biennial, Egypt|
|_____||Exhibition with Adham Wanly, Museum of Fine Arts, Alexandria, Egypt|
|1956||Venice Biennial, Italy|
|_____||Afro-Asian Arts Exhibition|
|1955 ||Alexandria Biennial, Egypt|
|1949 ||Exposition Egypte-France, Pavillon de Marsan, Paris, France|
|1938 ||Alexandria Atelier, Egypt|
|1935||Cairo Salon organized by the Society of Fine Arts Lovers, Egypt|
Awards and Honors
|1973||Egyptian State Merit Award|
|1959||First Prize of the Alexandria Biennial|
|1953||Medal of the Afro-Asian Arts Exhibition|
|1949 ||"Richard" Prize for Arts|
|1936||Mahmoud Mokhtar Prize for painting founded by intellectual and feminist Huda Shaarawi|
Modern Egyptian art, Alexandria, Adham Wanly, Macchiaioli, École de Barbizon, performance arts, theater, ballet, opera, Nubian heritage, landscapes.
Iskandar, Rushdī. Adham Wānlī (Adham Wanly). Cairo: General Information Organization, 1984.
Al-Mallākh, Kamāl, al-Shārūnī, Ṣubḥī. al-ikhwān Sayf wa Adham Wānlī (The Brothers Seif and Adham Wanly). Cairo: General Egyptian Book Organization, 1984.
Abaza, Mona. Twentieth-Century Egyptian Art: The Private Collection of Sherwet Shafei. Cairo: The American University in Cairo Press, 2011.
Azar, Aimé. La peinture moderne en Égypte. Le Caire: Les Éditions Nouvelles, 1961.
Karnouk, Liliane. Modern Egyptian Art (1910-2003). Cairo: The American University in Cairo Press, 2005.