Two modern Middle Eastern gems will make a special appearance at Sotheby’s upcoming 20th Century/Middle East sale on 24 April in London. The top lot of the sale is a work by renowned Egyptian Modernist Mahmoud Saïd titled Adam and Eve (1937) offered with an estimate of $415,506-692,510. Appearing at auction for the first time, the work is aesthetically daring and the only painting by the artist to take biblical figures as its subject. Painted in the artist’s lush and enchanting figurative style, making much use of the ‘magical light’ emanating from his homeland, here Adam and Eve are clearly situated in an Egyptian setting.
“The painting is very ostentatious and portrays a very oriental idea of a woman,” says Ashkan Baghestani, Sotheby’s Contemporary Arab and Iranian Art specialist and Head of Sale. “Moreover, the artist rarely painted a woman without a headpiece. The painting embodies so many spheres of influence—from the works of Egyptian antiquity to the grand style of the European Old Masters and his own glorious depictions of the lush landscape of the Nile. Having remained unseen for a quarter of a century, we are thrilled to be bringing this glorious work to auction this April.”
This sumptuous painting depicts the biblical icons as two lone figures in a lush desert oasis. Adam embraces Eve, almost protecting her, from the unknown in a surreal setting. The painting conjures up similar depictions from the Italian Renaissance. Through this work, Saïd, the renowned founder of modern Egyptian art during a time of intellectual revival in the country, reveals a visual dialogue between the stylistic tendencies of European art and the sumptuous qualities of his Egyptian homeland.
Mahmoud Saïd. A detail of Adam & Eve. 1937. (Estimated price: $415,506-692,510)
The other gem at auction is Mohasses’ The Minotaur Scares the Good People, a vivid representation of the artist’s lifetime spent tackling feelings of alienation, loneliness and disenfranchisement. In an unknown landscape a group of surreal half-human half-beast creatures gather round with their mouths open in agony while one larger creature appears to walk towards them. Towards the back, what we’d imagine to be a female of such creatures carries on her hip her child as she screams at the intruder in agony. This avant-garde painting, priced at an estimate of $387,814-484,767, also appears for the first time at auction.
“The minatour was Mohasses’ favourite subject to paint,” says Baghestani. “He became fascinated by the creature when he moved to Italy continuing to depict this half man and half human always without feet. There’s a very awkward movement about the minatour create a sense of tension in the work.” The painting has remained in a private collection since the 1970s and hasn’t been exhibited in 25 year. It displays the elements that are most sought-after in the artist’s works, adds Baghestani, including mythological symbolism and a vibrant cast of characters that refer to the artist’s alter-ego Fifi. “There’s been a growing demand from collectors and institutions across the globe for masterworks by the Iranian artist,” he continues. “A rare work by the artist achieved a record price of $748,772 at Sotheby’s London last year - triple the previous record at auction.”
These two works by Saïd and Mohasses share interesting similarities. “Both artists were influenced by Old Masters, especially Rembrandt, with Saïd especially evoking the same light as the Dutch artist in his painting.” Such exceptional works of Middle Eastern Modern art articulate a unique visual dialogue between each artist and his past offering us rare glimpses into the region’s rich history.
Sotheby’s sale of 20th Century/Middle East takes place in London on 24 April. Sothebys.com