D uring April 2023, a dazzling array of Islamic and Middle East-related sales at Sotheby’s make Spring 2023 a particularly interesting time for all collectors of these categories. Having historically been the first auction house to serve clients in the Middle East, today Sotheby’s remains the strongest presence across the Middle East, continuing to meet and inspire its market through a variety of channels – including fine arts, jewelry, non-selling exhibitions, educational initiatives, and exclusive events.
The scope of this year’s Spring sales series in London is yet another mark of recognition, testifying to the importance and growth of Middle Eastern countries and their active engagement with the global community. Sotheby’s acknowledged this regional potential back in 2017, when it opened its office at Dubai’s DIFC, catering to regional clients’ diverse and wide-ranging requirements. And today, the office reflects the spectrum of the company’s international sales and extensive client services year-round, spanning jewellery to vintage fashion, art, luxury items, and design. As an example, in November 2022, a solo selling exhibition by Modernist pioneer Alfred Basbous gave audiences a chance to appreciate the work of this master-sculptor, while in contrast in March 2023, award-winning jeweller Nadine Ghosn unveiled her latest collection ‘Youtensils’, showcasing the ‘ultra-now’ in jewelry. Check Sotheby’s website regularly if you don’t want to miss other exciting upcoming activities!
And for those international buyers in London during April, there will be a number of exceptional sales in London’s New Bond Street headquarters this month, Testimony of a Journey: The Al Zayani Collection, 20th Century Art/Middle East, Persepolis II, The Orientalist Sale and the Arts of the Islamic World Including Fine Rugs and Carpets auction which, as always, presents the finest in Persian, Ottoman, and Arab Islamic artworks.
Taking place during the extended run of the inaugural Islamic Arts Biennale in Jeddah – for which Sothebys is an official supporting partner – the Arts of the Islamic World sale is set to attract a wider range of bidders than ever before.
The Islamic Arts Biennale has already garnered great acclaim from local and global visitors, with organisers reporting incredibly positive reactions and visitor numbers to the event which launched in January. Visitors have acclaimed the inspiring collections of historic items, from architecture to design and visual arts, as well as contemporary installations and one-off commissions, all presented in the unforgettable surroundings of the Hajj Terminal at the King Abdulaziz Airport.
This landmark Saudi initiative has refocused attention on the value and significance of Islamic heritage, in both early artworks and contemporary art production. This was in no small part due to the novel concept of presenting these parallel strands side by side across the site, rather than creating a chronological divide between antique and contemporary objects. This smart move means ‘heritage-inspired’ art will no longer be sidelined as being outside the canon of contemporary practice (as modern master Rasheed Araeen has many times complained); rather, it will be perceived as a rich and undervalued aspect of it.
Collectors of Islamic art itself – historically a group of cognoscente, often with scholarly knowledge of the artworks – will now likely extend to younger buyers with more eclectic tastes, who can visualize the impact of mixing and juxtaposing categories both in their collecting practice and on their walls. Moving beyond narrow compartmentalization to more creative and novel ways of seeing, we anticipate a diverse range of new and old collectors eagerly bidding for the outstanding Shah Tahmasp Shahnameh folio, depicting Bizhan slaying Nastihan as he stems the Turanian night raid. A Game of Thrones-worthy battle scene, this work piques the imagination, not just by its compositional heroism, but also through the exquisite technical mastery of colour, pattern, and calligraphy. Add to that its Rothschild provenance, and it can safely be pronounced as one of the greatest works of art in the world to come under the hammer.
In a more contemporary vein, the next Arab and Iranian 20th century art sale includes the next set of original book art from Volume 1 of bestselling autobiographical graphic novel series Persepolis by French-Iranian artist Marjane Satrapi. The sale, entitled Persepolis II follows the successful
auction of the first forty-four sheets in October 2022. No less important will be a significant work by Iranian Modern master Marcos Grigorian, as well as a personal favourite: a large composition by the widely-admired Huguette Caland, a portrait of Ed Moses, dating from 1988.
The real highlight in this group of sales however, is arguably the single-owner collection from the Bahrain-based Al Zayani family, whose twenty-year history of seeking the best and most sought-after works across the Middle East has delivered an exceptional assemblage of 95 works by 73 artists. Hailing from Egypt, Turkey, Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and North Africa, the artists in Testimony of a Journey: The Al Zayani Collection represent a vast spectrum of artistic production, created over the last century in the Middle East. Exploring myriad themes and mediums, the works represent a wide range of aesthetics, yet always refer to a rich thread of cultural heritage as a touch-point.
The sale therefore provides a unique opportunity for budding collectors to look for works by important masters. From a beautiful Gazbia Sirry to a classic Ayman Baalbaki Mulatham painting, an important Fouad Kamel hailing from the Art et Liberte movement, and an evocative Farid Balkahia, the works on offer are truly a treasure-trove of opportunities for the discerning buyer.