Four sales dedicated to Middle Eastern art across epochs marked Sotheby’s London’s Orientalist and Middle Eastern Art Week, showcasing works from North Africa, the Middle East, Turkey, Persia, India, as well as Western artist’s interpretations of the 19th-century concept of “the Orient”. The four sales were Rugs & Carpets, The Orientalist Sale, Arts of the Islamic World, and 20th Century Art/Middle East. The contemporary auction, held on 24 April, is considered one of the auction house’s most significant, featuring rare and highly sought-after artists, such as Mahmoud Said, Bahman Mohasses, Mounir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian and Saliba Douhayi, among others. On this occasion, it also reintroduced its Arab, Iranian and Turkish art sales that saw new world records established by artists such as Mohasses and Antoine Malliarkis Mayo.
Sales totaled GBP2,140,250, with Said’s Adam and Eve (1937), which appeared at auction for the first time, marking the top lot at GPB633,000, surpassing its estimate of GBP300,000-500,000. The work depicting a man and woman standing in the Egyptian countryside is one of only three that address a couple’s relationship in his oeuvre, and exceptionally references religious iconography traditionally found only in European Old Master works. Deemed by Sotheby’s specialists to have been produced at the height of his artistic career and maturity, the work features Said’s characteristic fusion of artistic traditions, referencing Italian and Flemish Primitivism, Renaissance art, Impressionism, Modern art, and Ancient Egyptian art.
Mohasses’s Il Minotauro Fa Paura Alla Gente Per Bene (The Minotaur Scares The Good People) (1966) meanwhile shattered the artist’s record by being acquired at GBP549,000, exceeding its estimate of GBP280,000-350,000. The vibrant painting features anthropomorphic figures in unnatural hues and speaks to the artist’s avoidance of mass-market appeal. Sotheby’s Senior Director and Deputy Chairman Middle East and Gulf Region Roxane Zand explained in the work’s description that his usage of mythological figures expressed his anguish at being misunderstood and underappreciated, as well as over the human condition. Mohasses was inspired by French intellectualism in the 1960s, which gave his aesthetic a satirical and anti-beauty edge.
While works by Paul Guiragossian and Dia Azzawi went unsold, other lots sold include Ahmed Mater’s Evolution of Man (2010) for GBP7,250; Louay Kayali’s Untitled Portrait of the Artist’s Niece (1964) for GBP40,000; and Farmanfarmaian’s Recollections I (2008) for GBP237,000. This includes GBP27,500 for Mayo’s La Clairiere (The Meadow) (1970), which set a new record for the artist.