Shafic Abboud’s work Composition in oil on canvas.
Muhammad Yusuf, Features Writer
On October 18, at Bonhams newly renovated Paris saleroom, its Modern and Contemporary Middle Eastern department is presenting The Mashreq Maghreb sale.
The offer consists of 44 lots from prominent and emerging artists from the Arab world, which have been donated both by the artists and Parisian collectors and gallery owners, Claude and France Lemand.
Half of the proceeds will benefit the artists with the other half going to the Claude & France Lemand-IMA Fund to support the Lumières du Liban exhibition, which is currently on at the Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris (till January 2, 2022). The estimates of the sale range from €3,000 to 60,000.
The Claude & France Lemand Fund aims to secure future acquisitions, organise exhibitions, undertake research work and publish exhibition catalogues within the Institut du Monde Arabe.
Claude Lemand left his native Lebanon in the mid-1970s, fleeing the civil war that had traumatised him. Twelve years later, in 1988, he founded a gallery in Paris, which he dedicated to international and Arab artists who, like him, had settled in the West.
Over the years, he and his wife France built an astonishing collection of works and contributed greatly to the rise of the Middle Eastern Art market.
In 2018, they donated 1,300 works from their collection to the Institut du Monde Arabe museum, enriched at each new exhibition, to reach more than 1,600 works this year.
It was the largest donation in the institution’s history and ever since, the Lemands and the Institut have worked together in boosting the profile of these artists in Europe and internationally.
Bonhams Director of Modern & Contemporary Middle Eastern Art, Nima Sagharchi, said: “Maghreb and Mashreq are terms used by Arabs when referring to the Eastern and Western regions of the Arab world, and crucially, this division is centred on the Mediterranean Sea.
“It is fitting therefore that our first sale of Middle Eastern Art in mainland Europe is a celebration of the Mediterranean flavour of Modern Middle Eastern Art, anchored as it is in great coastal artistic hubs like Beirut, Alexandria, Algiers and Casablanca.
“Although the styles and subject matters vary greatly across the 44 lots on offer, the artists’ shared cultural background goes a long way in informing them and providing a common thread between the works.
“It is a great privilege to be working with Claude and France Lemand on our first live Middle Eastern Art sale on French soil. Their influence in the growth of Arab art in the western market cannot be understated and the selection of works on offer in the sale exemplifies this. Ranging from renowned artists such as Mohammed Melehi, to others never before seen at auction, this promises to be an exciting sale.”
Jack Lang, former Minister of Culture and president of the Institute du Monde Arabe said: “Claude and France Lemand were among the first to believe in the creativity of contemporary artists from the Arab world. They also stand out for their generosity.
“A donation is always a human adventure. It continues and grows, since the benefactors of the IMA museum are now also the benefactors of artists from the Arab world and the patrons of the current large temporary exhibition Lumières du Liban. I am happy to bring my patronage to this charity sale.”
The top-lot is Shafic Abboud’s (Lebanon, 1926-2004), Composition,1966. Abboud is one of the most sought-after Arab artists of the 20th century.
He was born in Lebanon in 1926 and he moved to Paris in 1947, to study at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts and frequented the studios of Jean Metzinger (1883–1956), Fernand Léger (1881–1955), and André Lhote (1885–1962).
He blended in perfectly with the city’s artistic life, just as many other artists who had come from all over the world after the Second World War, wanting to embody the Parisian masters.
He travelled often and consistently returned to his homeland, where he played a major role in Beirut’s cultural and artistic life. Abboud is seen as a permanent bridge between the art scenes of France and Lebanon and that of Europe and the Middle East.
The work on offer belonged to Eliane Kaufholz, a Germanist and translator of Adorno, Karl Kraus and Thomas Bernhard. She was a dear friend of Abbouds and had always played an integral role in his life.
Mohamed Melehi’s (Morocco, 1936-2020), Beirut is the last painting executed by the leading Moroccan modernist, before he passed away in Paris in 2020.
Melehi studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Tetouan, Morocco, before going to study abroad at the École Supérieure des Beaux-Arts Isabel de Hungria in Seville; the École supérieure des Beaux-Arts San Fernando in Madrid; the Académie des Beaux-Arts and the Istituto Statale d’Arte in Italy and the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris.
In 1964, he returned to Morocco and became a professor of painting, sculpture and photography at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts of Casablanca from 1964 till 1969, which was directed by Farid Belkahia.
Melehi, Belkhahia and Chebaa formed the Casablanca group with an exhibition in Rabat in 1966. In addition to new modernist style, their work was also known for a pedagogy that focused on rooting modernism in local visual culture.
An Untitled work by Ayman Baalbaki (Lebanon, born 1975), is also on sale. Baalbaki was born in 1975, the year of the outbreak of the Lebanese Civil War. He and his family were forced to flee Rass el-Dikweneh, in the suburbs of Beirut, when he was only a few months old.
War loomed over Baalbaki’s head throughout his life, with his home in Haret Hreik being demolished during the 2006 Israeli attacks. When it came to approaching his art practice, Baalbaki naturally drew from the deep reservoir of memory formed by these traumatic and disturbing experiences.
He gathered documentary and archival material, his own photographs and images, from the internet of war and destruction. The variations inspired him to approach his subject from different angles.
Executed in a scale which captures both the architectural enormity of the building depicted and the severity of the damage it suffered, the Untitled painting is a striking vignette of a city whose urban landscape has been punctured and mutilated by the war.
Baalbaki’s work pays tribute to the traumatic recent history his countrymen endured. The iconic imagery in the scenes the artist captures are dramatic; yet the floral textile backgrounds provide a deliberate softening effect, a feminine touch that recalls the dresses worn by rural women in Southern Lebanon.
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