Highlights From Upcoming Sotheby’s 20th Century Art / Middle East Auction

BY Beena Pagarani / Mar 22 2020 / 14:26 PM

Set to auction works by renowned Arab artists with a renewed focus on North African artists, here’s what to expect from the upcoming Sotheby’s 20th Century Art / Middle East Auction

Highlights From Upcoming Sotheby’s 20th Century Art / Middle East Auction
Courtesy of Sotheby's and the artist
Baya. Untitled. 1990. Watercolour, gouache and pencil on paper (est. £8,000-12,000)

Taking place on March 24, 2020 Sotheby’s London will be home to its 20th Century Art / Middle East auction.

Sotheby’s specialist and co-head of sale Mai Eldib states “. . . with the rise of new institutions and foundations, enticing cultural events and educational activities in Gulf countries, notably the UAE and Saudi, we have witnessed the general public take an increased interest in the arts. At the same time, major international museums are acquiring more Middle Eastern artists and appointing curators with a dedicated focus on this region.”

“We are proud to contribute to this blossoming understanding for and appreciation of Arab art, and in this sale are particularly fortunate to have been able to put together a focus on Mahmoud Sabri – the most sought-after Iraqi modernist artist," says Eldib.

"It is so rare to have a private collection, focused on one artist, come to the market and so the opportunity to acquire fresh-to-the-market works of this calibre by Sabri is unprecedented. The selection chronicles over thirty years of development of the artist, and so we have put together an in-depth essay to truly tell his story through these works.”


Ayman Baalbaki. Al-Mulatham A. 2011. Acrylic on printed fabric. 72x63cm

Courtesy of Sotheby's and the artist

On auction will be rare pieces by Sabri from the personal collection of the Touqmachi brothers – Hafez and Hamdi, who chronicled Sabri’s life over four decades since the fifties. Having lived through migration, religious uprisings, revolutions in Iraq and more, Sabri’s works are representative of the socio-economic scenario of the times.

From this rare collection of personal archives, the Touqmatchi family is to release a series of seven works by the artist to be sold as a single set at an estimated value of AED 470,000 to AED 707,000.

Another highlight on offer under this Iraqi modernist artist’s portfolio will be a painting entitled A Family of Famers (early 1960’s), which symbolises the hardships encountered by those without a home. This work is estimated to be sold between AED 470,000 to AED 707,000. 


Fahrelnissa Zeid.  Marie-Alice. 1988. Oil on canvas. 100.5x80.5cm

Courtesy of Sotheby's and the artist

“We will also be presenting a historically important painting by Mahmoud Said, which has been in a prestigious private collection and is coming to auction for the first time,” reveals Eldib.

With a growing demand for Egyptian modernist art, Said’s painting Le Pirèe a l’aube (Piraeus at Dawn) (1949) is estimated to be sold between AED 1,400,000 to AED 2,400,000. The work is greatly influenced by his life as a child, his aristocratic background and cosmopolitan travels. 

Other works include two limited edition photographs by Egyptian artist Youssef Nabil. Entitled My Bed, Fifi Abdou (2000) and Ehsan Crying (1997) both images are a portrayal of women and are estimated to be auctioned between AED 18,000 to AED 28,000 each. For the first time, the auction house will be exhibiting the works alongside Modern and Contemporary African Art, “with whom we share a continent,” says Eldib.

“As such, we have a renewed focus on works by North African artists in our sale – with a number of exciting, vibrant pieces by Mohamed Melehi (radical abstract artist, who forged a new path alongside the New York group) and Baya (the young female artist from Alegeria who inspired Picasso), as well as Hassan Hajjaj, Farid Belkahia and Hatim Elmekki. There are also some incredible female names, including stunning pieces by beloved pioneers Etel Adnan, Fahrelnissa Zeid and Monir Farmanfarmaian.”   

20th Century Art / Middle East Auction will be held at Sotheby’s London on 24 March


From the spring 2020 issue of Harper's Bazaar Art