Sotheby’s First-Ever Online-Only Auctions for these Categories
Achieve World Auction Records for 10 Artists, including Mohamed Melehi and Farid Belkahia
20TH CENTURY ART / MIDDLE EAST (27 – 31 MARCH)
Total: Recently converted from a live to an online-only auction, Sotheby’s sale of Modern and Contemporary Middle Eastern art totalled £2,193,625 / $2,679,294, towards the high end of its pre-sale estimate of £1,714,000-2,371,000, with 60% of lots exceeding their pre-sale high estimates, often by multiple factors.
Top Lot: The auction was led by Morocco’s modernist master Mohamed Melehi, as The Blacks (Lot 7), a radical work from 1963 inspired by the iconic cityscape of New York but imbued with the cultural richness of Morocco soared to £399,000 / $487,339, nearly seven times its estimate – after 30 bids were placed on the piece. In its auction debut, the painting achieved a record for the artist, at more than double the previous benchmark price set in 2018.
Further Records: Auction records also tumbled elsewhere in the sale, including for Moroccan artist Farid Belkahia, whose Jerusalem (Lot 28) more than doubled its estimate to bring £200,000 / $244,280, Algerian artist Mahyeddine Baya (Lot 66), who in her youth influenced and inspired Pablo Picasso and Syrian artist Naim Ismail (Lot 65), which attracted 24 bids. There were strong results for works by Palestinian artists, including a record for Abed Abdi (Lot 20).
Touqmatchi collection: Five works by pioneering Iraqi modernist Mahmoud Sabri sold from the collection of the artist’s close lifelong friends, brothers Hafez and Hamdi Touqmatchi, who published the first and only survey of Sabri’s career in 2013, together totalling £428,750 / $523,675. Highlights from the group included A Family of Farmers (Lot 38), which tripled its estimate to bring £300,000 / $366,420, as well as Builders (Lot 40), a work on paper thought to be the artist’s earliest known artwork, at £7,500 / $9,160.
Other Highlights: The auction also saw strong results for Bahman Mohasses, whose monumental take on the Greek myth of the oracle Tiresias (Lot 18) made £150,000 / $183,210 and bronze sculpture of a man and dog (Lot 10) sold for a double-estimate £68,750 / $83,971. The auction also offered a painting by prominent founding member of the Art et Liberté Group in Egypt, Ramses Younan (Lot 13). Having been exhibited in Paris' Centre Pompidou in 2016, as part of the seminal, critically-acclaimed exhibition, it sold for £93,750 / $114,506.
Statistics on Bidders & Buyers:
- Participants hailed from 23 countries.
- Buyers from the MENA region accounted for half of the activity, with a 21% increase in buyers from the UAE.
- 28% of bidders in the sale were new to Sotheby’s, translating to 21% of buyers purchasing lots for the first time.
- 31% of bidders in the sale were under 40 years old.
- Each sold lot attracted an average of 9.4 bids.
MODERN & CONTEMPORARY AFRICAN ART (27 – 31 MARCH)
Total: Also newly converted to an online-only format, Sotheby’s sixth sale of Modern & Contemporary African Art realised £2,359,375 / $2,881,741, featuring over 100 works from 58 artists across 21 countries. The auction saw a 46% increase in the number of bidders in comparison to the equivalent sale last year.
Top Lot: The auction was led by Irma Stern’s rich and colourful Grape Packer (Lot 85) from 1959, which realised £435,000 / $531,309 – well within-the pre-sale estimate of £350,000-550,000. The timeless painting is a seminal example of the South African artist’s mature works from the 1950s and early sixties, and her increasing focus on labourers as subjects. Across the auction, six works by female artists accounted for 41% of the total value of the sale.
Records: In their debut appearances in an international auction, records were established for Tanzanian artist Elias Jengo’s Wakulima (The Farmers) (Lot 69: £5,250 / $6,412) and Nigerian artist Shina Yussuff’s Royal Welcome (Lot 21: £5,000 / $6,107). Cameroonian photographer Samuel Fosso also broke his previous record twice when two photographs from his ‘Tati’ series (Lot 11: £21,250 / £$25,955 & Lot 12: £20,000 / $24,428) soared above their high estimates. Influenced by Mozambican art and Portuguese modernism, a further record was set for Bertina Lopes’ elegant ‘Portrait of a Woman’ (Lot 78: £8,125 / $9,924). Elsewhere in the sale, 13 bids were placed on a painting by Zimbabwean artist Richard Mudariki (Lot 103: £6,875 / $8,397) – most known for his satirical use of iconic figures and symbols – breaking his previous auction record.
Further highlights: Forming the cover lot of this season’s sale catalogue, a radiant early painting by Nigerian master Ben Enwonwu, Sefi (Lot 13), brought a regal £250,000 / $305,350 in its auction debut. Until recently, the enigmatic sitter had been known only as the ‘Nigerian princess’ but, upon close examination, Sotheby’s specialists noticed intricate details which lead them to believe the sitter could be Princess Judith Safinet ‘Sefi’ Atta. The artist’s bronze sculpture, Afi Ekong (Lot 14), which depicts one of Nigeria’s most famous female artists, and who at the time was married to Sefi’s brother, also achieved £125,000 / $152,675.
Young star Eddy Kamuanga Ilunga proved once again that he is one to watch when Ko Bungisa Mbala Mibale 2 (Lot 5) sold for £62,500 / $76,338, and Ko Bungisa Mbala Mibale 3 (Lot 6) achieved £43,750 / $53,436. First offered in the inaugural Modern & Contemporary African sale in 2017, Sotheby’s now holds the top eight prices for the artist at auction.
Credited as one of the pioneers of contemporary art in Morocco, 34 bids were placed across three works by Hassan El Glaoui, which all sold above their high estimates to achieve a combined total of £113,750 / $138,934 (Lots 57, 58 & 60). Featuring the military horses, camels and riders for which he is famed, the paintings are a powerful celebration of his homeland.
Statistics on Bidders & Buyers:
- 35% of bidders were new to Sotheby’s, translating to 27% of buyers purchasing lots for the first time at Sotheby’s.
- Almost 30% of bidders in the sale were under 40 years old.
- Participants hailed from 22 countries.
Sotheby’s continues to offer online-only sales, with the following sales currently open for bidding: The Orientalist Sale, Contemporary Art London, Fine Jewels, Photographs, Watches Weekly: Rolex and Audemars Piguet, The Rafael Valls Sale, Contemporary Art Hong Kong and Joseph H. Hirshhorn: Collector for A Nation.
London Melica.Khansari@Sothebys.com +44 (0)20 7293 5164
London Alicia Stockley Alicia.Stockley@sothebys.com +44 (0)20 7293 6602
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* Estimates do not include buyer's premium or overhead premium. Prices achieved include the hammer price plus buyer's premium and overhead premium and are net of any fees paid to the purchaser where the purchaser provided an irrevocable bid.
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