Mahmoud Said, Piraeus at dawn, 1949, oil on board.
Muhammad Yusuf, Features Writer
The Modern & Contemporary Middle Eastern Art auction at Sotheby’s London (public exhibition Mar. 20 – 24 and auction on Mar. 24), will be led by Mahmoud Said’s Rare Industrial Scene.
It has been unseen for sixty years and is set to make its auction debut alongside seven works by Mahmoud Sabri from the Touqmachi Collection.
Said was an Alexandrian (Egyptian) judge and modern painter while Sabri was an Iraqi painter who was considered to be one of the pioneers of Iraqi modern art. Last exhibited in 1960 in Said’s native city of Alexandria, Piraeus at dawn is a rare example of the pioneering Egyptian master turning his hand to an industrial scene.
It depicts a moment suspended in time, before the day starts, at Greece’s largest and most urbanised port, the canvas populated with ships scattered on the silver sea.
An otherworldly stillness emanates from it, as the artist maintains a harmonious balance between the various elements on the composition and bestows his signature grandeur on the scene.
Fahrelnissa Zeid, Marie-Alice, 1988, oil on canvas.
His aristocratic background paved way for his travel to Europe, which influenced his outlook extensively, and this work reflects the European influences from his travels in the 1920s. It ranges from the influence of Georges Seurat’s neo-Impressionist views of small fishing village in France to L.S. Lowry’s panoramic cityscapes.
Said himself originated from a port-city, and so the importance of ports is reflected throughout his oeuvre. Piraeus at dawn was painted two years after he retired from his legal career and devoted his life entirely to painting.
Sabri came of age during far-reaching social and economic changes in Iraq, committed to depicting the realities of persistent poverty and social injustice yet with an underlying message of hope and a shared responsibility to transform society.
Spending many years in the United Kingdom and the USSR, he became passionate about communism and universal equality, expressing this message through modernism whilst also paying homage to Assyrian and Babylonian art and architecture.
The auction will feature an offering of seven works by the artist in a single sale – including his first known work, a drawing of a group of builders from the early 1950s.
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They come from the collection of Sabri’s close lifelong friends, brothers Hafez and Hamdi Touqmatchi, who published the first and only survey of Sabri’s career in 2013.
Having met Sabri at school in Baghdad, their collection chronicles four decades of the artist’s career. Created in Moscow, A Family of Farmers is an allegorical picture that boldly takes on the theme of the lives and hardships of the dispossessed.
Mirror mosaics have decorated the interiors of the Iranian shrines and palaces since the 16th century, and Monir Farmanfarmaian became fascinated with the technique of the local craftsmen.
She became the first contemporary artist to reinvent the traditional Persian craft with her sensational geometric works.
A rare, triangular piece put up at the auction (Variation) reflects the principles of Islamic art, with the diameter of 100cm circle central to the body of the work, yet indistinguishable.
Mohamed Melehi’s radical, vibrant works – made up of hard-edged blocks of colour and abstracted motifs – capture a post-modern aesthetic with the cultural richness of Moroccan-Berber crafts.
His friendships with Frank Stella and Jasper Johns, appreciation of modernist architecture and graphic design, as well as a passion for Jazz, all come through in the assured canvas at the auction. Here, the New York’s iconic cityscape is framed within the bright lights of a city that never sleeps.
The Moroccan artist’s first UK retrospective took place in 2019 at Mosaic Rooms in London, and will be followed by an exhibition at Concrete, Alserkal Avenue, Dubai, opening Mar. 13.
Fahrelnissa Zeid’s dynamic and spellbinding portraits are utterly unique studies of form and colour.
Her avid belief that portraiture ought to be free from reproducing physical appearance and instead render the aura of the subject, resulted in personal visual embodiments of her close friends and family.
In the painting at the auction (Marie-Alice), she presents Marie-Alice Leclercq, wife of the French Ambassador to Egpyt, who was known for her alluring confidence and flair. Zeid’s works are held in the collections of leading museums internationally, including Tate Modern, London, Istanbul Modern, Istanbul and Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art in Doha.
A powerful, monumental masterpiece by Bahman Mohasses takes on the Greek myth of the oracle Tiresias, giving an insight into the psyche of the enigmatic artist. The frenetic, theatrical painting evokes Francis Bacon’s anthropomorphic figures and the dark imagination of Max Ernst.
Throughout his oeuvre, Mohasses created dystopic figures and realities, grappling with nihilism and angst. Here he counters that myth that even the ‘soothsayer’ Tiresias could see the future, in a message of hopelessness.
The bird, or beaked figure, a central motif in his works, becomes the visual embodiment of pessimism. Sotheby’s has been uniting collectors with world-class works of art since 1744.
Today it has a global network of 80 offices in 40 countries and presents auctions in 10 different salesrooms, including New York, London, Hong Kong and Paris.