The 3ft 11in (1.19m) sculpture, Au Bord du Nil by Mahmoud Mokhtar (1891-1934), was sold in London in April 2016 when it was catalogued as a Susse Frères cast from ‘circa 1920s’ with a provenance to a New York private collection.
The buyer Sultan Sooud Al-Qassemi paid a premium-inclusive £725,000 against an estimate of £120,000-180,000. In papers submitted to the High Court he says the bronze is a posthumous cast with a value closer to £70,000. The claim also states that the agent who sold the sculpture - dealer Nesreen Farag – is the mother of Mai Eldib, Sotheby’s consultant involved in the sale. Al-Qassemi's legal representatives say this could amount to a conflict of interest and appears contrary to Sotheby’s Code of Business Conduct.
Sotheby’s said it will contest the claim. In a statement to The Daily Telegraph the auctioneers said: “We will be vigorously defending our position and are confident that the court will find the claims against us baseless.”
Au Bord du Nil is perhaps the best-known work by Mokhtar, often dubbed the father of modern Egyptian sculpture. The figure of a peasant water carrier, marrying the sculpture of Ancient Egypt to Parisian Art Deco, has an underlying message of Egypt’s revolutionary movement in the early 20th century. The life-size marble version now stands at the entrance of the Mokhtar Museum in Cairo.
The authenticity of Sotheby’s cast was confirmed at the time by Mokhtar authority Emad El Din Aboughazi.