Details & Cataloguing

20th Century Art / Middle East


Saadi Al-Kaabi
B. 1937
signed and dated 1964 in Arabic
oil and mixed media on linen mounted on board 
123 by 76.5cm.; 48 3/8 by 30 1/8 in.
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Al-Wasiti Gallery, Baghdad
Private Collection, Baghdad (acquired directly from the above in 1964-1965)
Thence by Descent 


Baghdad, Al-Wasiti Gallery, Exhibition for Iraqi Art, 1964

Catalogue Note

Sotheby’s is honoured to be offering two early works by Iraqi modernist artists Saadi Al-Kaabi and Dia Al-Azzawi from the 1960s.  Both paintings were exhibited at the Al-Wasiti Gallery circa 1964-1965 in Baghdad and have remained unseen since their acquisition by a prominent Baghdadi collector.

The Al-Wasiti Gallery, a private institution located on Al Sa’adoon Street in the Al Kubba Building, was named after Yahia Al-Wasiti, a 13th Century artist who founded the Rafidian School of Painting in Baghdad. As part of their manifesto in 1951, Jama’et Baghdad lil Fen al-Hadith (The Baghdad Modern Art Group) stated: “Thus, we will declare today the birth of a new school of painting which will stem from the roots of our present civilisation, with its own styles and beliefs created from the unique ethos of the East. We shall rebuild what has collapsed in the realm of painting in Iraq since the Yahia Al-Wasiti’s school or the Ar-Rafidain School of the thirteenth century…” (Nizar Salim, Iraq Contemporary Art Vol.1 Paintings, Milano, 1977, p. 184). Al-Wasiti Gallery, where Dia Al-Azzawi also had his first solo show in 1965, would come to be known as the space exhibiting the most important Iraqi artists of the time.

The present work by Al-Kaabi entitled Al Orta makes reference to a child’s game known as alshee’ab which is usually played outdoors in working class neighbourhoods. The artist has kindly illuminated that children used to play this game using the bones from the carcass of a lamb – usually the bones from the back feet. The game was unique to Iraq. Al-Kaabi’s palette draws from a rich earthy colour tone and a dense texture, with the scene depicted from an elevated position. Illustrating a scene commonly witnessed in Baghdad, Al-Kaabi’s painting illuminates the nuances of a new Iraqi identity being forged through painting in a post-colonial era. Known for exploring scenes from the daily life in Baghdad, Al-Kaabi in a way also references the rich history of the empires which predated modern day Iraq such as the Sumerian and Babylonian Empires.

In a post-colonial era, the works by Al Kaabi and Al-Azzawi provide the viewer with a national ownership of their cultural identity. Dia Al-Azzawi's work Al Madyaf is one of the earliest works by the artist to appear at auction. Al Madyaf, which translates as ‘the Host’, is an engaging composition where three men are seen to be comfortably lying or sitting in an informal environment consuming coffee and chatting, another traditional and typical scene from the Iraqi daily life. A significant member of the Iraqi modern and contemporary movements, Al-Azzawi's work incorporates minimalist elements of Cubism through the positioning of his characters in the painting. Dated 1964, the painting was possibly one of the works exhibited by the artist at Al-Wasiti Gallery during his first solo show and is unique in the sense that it is possibly one of the earliest paintings the artist created after his graduation. The painting was also executed in the years after the founding of the Baghdad Modern Art Group and carries stylistic and thematic similarities to what the group aimed to achieve. It also predates the New Vision group founded in October 1969 by six artists including Dia Al-Azzawi himself. 

Sotheby’s is honoured to present these historical, rare and early works by two leading Iraqi artists which undoubtedly are exquisite additions to any collection of Arab art.

20th Century Art / Middle East