Details & Cataloguing

20th Century Art/ Middle East


Samia A. Halaby
signed S.Halaby
oil on canvas
143.4 by 119.4cm.; 56 1/2 by 47in.
Executed in 1964.
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Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner's father in the 1960s
Thence by Descent 

Catalogue Note

Born in Jerusalem in 1936, Samia Halaby had an adventurous childhood where at the age of twelve, she and her family fled from their native city Jaffa to seek refuge in Lebanon and at a later stage in Cincinnati, USA. Halaby enrolled at university and pursued her MFA at Indiana University in Bloomington in 1963. She then held a prominent position in the Fine Arts division at the Yale School of Arts where she was the first female professor. After ten years of teaching, Halaby then moved to New York which the artist strongly believes played a major role in her perception of politics, religion, social structure and gender equality in the world. The artist describes this struggle : “but in those days, being female and then, on top of that, being Palestinian, made things extremely difficult”. (the artist in conversation with Erica Schwiegershausen for the New York Magazine, 2013)

Throughout her body of work, Halaby is one of those rare exiled artists from the Arab world who does not portray the severe political turmoil of her country, nor the lack of freedom of speech endured by her people. Her large canvases are extremely neutral. Perhaps they seek an inner peace as they draw upon an explosion of abstract colours that sometimes suggest a notion of playfulness despite a tragic status she was labelled with - a refugee - during her early years. The passion and simplicity of her art preceded the artist, rather than the trauma that led her to her displacement at a young age.

Samia Halaby emphasised that her early source of inspiration was the geometry and patterns seen in Islamic art between the 14th and 17th centuries, especially within the Persian carpets. From there onwards, she would study the various forms of Cubism from the early 20th Century. Her visit to the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem also had a great influence on her practice throughout her career, notably the intricate and grand geometry of Islamic architecture. These observations helped her understand the concept of spatiality and the perspective needed to study the transfer of three dimensional objects to a two dimensional surface. By doing so, Halaby immerses herself in a state of contemplation and exploration to better comprehend the notions of volume which resulted in a fascinating dialogue between geometry and abstraction within her art - two worlds which at first glance may seem to have nothing in common.   

Sotheby's is delighted to offer two rare works by Halaby's most sought after artistic period. Cord Runner and Board, is one of Halaby’s most primitive work to appear at auction. The painting is heavily influenced by the works of Clyfford Still and Barnett Newman, two of the most prominent Post-War Abstract Expressionist American artists. The rarity of this work lies in its audacity and boldness of depicting colours without borders. This work paved the way to her further formative years in the 1970s when the artist studied the fundamentals of figuration, specifically the use of illusion to indicate volume, depth and perspective in space. Cord Runner and Board sets the tone for what was to become her iconic three-dimensional paintings in the late 1960s.

Golden Section (lot 34) demonstrates that clear shift towards geometrical paintings. Through a series of "cylinder" compositions, she concluded that colour of volume affects the illusion of depth. With these discoveries, Halaby abandoned the use of three-dimensional features as a starting point for her paintings, and instead began to plot paintings on graph paper before transferring them onto canvas, as seen in Golden Section. This allowed for a different approach to depicting volume and eventually led to the artist's investigation of strong architectural representations and movement from Islamic art, architecture and calligraphy, in which infinite space and time are communicated through a repetition of forms. 

Cord Runner and Board and Golden Section are undoubtedly the artist’s most primitive yet accomplished and diverse works to be offered at auction. Both works are pivotal in defining Halaby as a quintessential artist of Abtraction from the Arab world and are great examples of Halaby’s masterful depiction of colour and shapes.   

20th Century Art/ Middle East