Mahmoud Said was born to an aristocratic Alexandrian family, which lived in Anfoushi district in Alexandria, near El-Moursi Abu’l-Abbas Mosque. His father, Mohammed Said Pasha, and Egypt’s Prime Minister, was a keen supporter of culture and arts. He was uncle of Queen Farida, King Farouk’s first wife. He graduated from the French School of Law in 1919. He worked as a lawyer, prosecutor, and then as judge in Mansouria, Alexandria and Cairo, rising to the office of Justice Councilor of the Alexandria Mixed Court. He resigned from legal work finally in 1947, to dedicate himself solely to his art.
Taught by the Italian artist, Emilha Fazotano de Foreno, a resident of Alexandria who had studied at the Florence Academy, Said quickly learned the classical methods of drawing faces, harmonization of colours and shading. He took further lessons by with another Florentine artist Artoro Zananeri, before leaving for Paris in 1920 for further study.
His great innovation was in adapting the techniques of Western painting to express an individual and national character. This is a dominant characteristic in his work from the late 1920s onwards, and that which sets him apart from other painters of the First Generation. During these years the National Egyptian Movement flourished as did the formation of an ‘Egyptian’ character for Egyptian art. A favorite subject in his paintings were women and girls. Said used the same model from Alexandria throughout his life, drawing and painting her in many guises- poor, bourgeois, and even aristocratic.
Mahmoud Said participated in international exhibitions in Venice, Madrid and Alexandria. He staged exhibitions in New York, Paris, Rome, Moscow, Alexandria and Cairo. He was admitted to the French Legion d’Honneur, winning a medal for Honorary Merit in 1951, and in 1960 was the first artist to be awarded the State Merit Award for Arts by Egyptian President Gamal Abdul-Nasser.