Press Release: Modern & Contemporary Middle Eastern Art at Sotheby's

Public Exhibition in London from 20 – 24 March
Auction on 24 March at 2.30pm GMT

Led by Mahmoud Said’s Rare Industrial Scene

– Unseen for Sixty Years and Set to Make its Auction Debut –

Alongside Seven Works by Mahmoud Sabri from the Touqmachi Collection

Mahmoud Said, Piraeus at dawn, 1949 (est. £300,000-400,000)

Last exhibited in 1960 in Mahmoud Said’s native city of Alexandria, this unique work is a rare example of the pioneering Egyptian master turning his hand to an industrial scene. The painting depicts a moment suspended in time, before the day starts, at Greece’s largest and most urbanised port, the canvas populated with ships scattered on the silver sea. An otherworldly stillness emanates from the work, as Said maintains a harmonious balance between the various elements on the composition and bestows his signature grandeur on the scene.

Said’s aristocratic background paved way for his travel to Europe, which influenced his outlook extensively, and this work reflects the European influences from his travels in the 1920s. From the influence of Georges Seurat’s neo-Impressionist views of small fishing village in France to L.S. Lowry’s panoramic cityscapes. Said himself originated from a port-city, and so the importance of ports is reflected throughout his oeuvre. Piraeus at dawn was painted two years after Said retired from his legal career and devoted his life entirely to painting.

Mahmoud Sabri, A Family of Farmers, early 1960s, oil on canvas (est. £100,000-150,000)

Mahmoud Sabri came of age during far-reaching social and economic changes in Iraq, committed to depicting the realities of persistent poverty and social injustice yet with an underlying message of hope and a shared responsibility to transform society. Spending many years in the United Kingdom and the USSR, Sabri became passionate about communism and universal equality, expressing this message through modernism whilst also paying homage to Assyrian and Babylonian art and architecture.

This auction will feature an unprecedented offering of seven works by the artist in a single sale – including the first known work by the artist, a drawing of a group of builders from the early 1950s. The works come from the collection of Sabri’s close lifelong friends, brothers Hafez and Hamdi Touqmatchi, who published the first and only survey of Sabri’s career in 2013. Having met Sabri at school in Baghdad, their collection chronicles four decades of the artist’s career.

Created in Moscow, A Family of Farmers is an allegorical picture that boldly takes on the theme of the lives and hardships of the dispossessed.

Monir Farmanfarmaian, Variations #3, 2010, mirror and plaster on wood (est. £120,000-180,000)

Mirror mosaics have decorated the interiors of the Iranian shrines and palaces since the 16th century, and Monir Farmanfarmaian became fascinated with the technique of the local craftsmen. She became the first contemporary artist to reinvent the traditional Persian craft with her sensational geometric works. This rare triangular piece reflects the principles of Islamic art, with the diameter of 100cm circle central to the body of the work, yet indistinguishable.

Mohamed Melehi, The Blacks, 1963, oil on canvas (est. £55,000-65,000)

Mohamed Melehi’s radical, vibrant works – made up of hard-edged blocks of colour and abstracted motifs – capture a post-modern aesthetic with the cultural richness of Moroccan-Berber crafts. Melehi’s friendships with Frank Stella and Jasper Johns, appreciation of modernist architecture and graphic design, as well as a passion for Jazz, all come through in this assured canvas. Here, the New York’s iconic cityscape is framed within the bright lights of a city that never sleeps. The Moroccan artist’s first UK retrospective took place in 2019 at Mosaic Rooms in London, and will be followed by an exhibition at Concrete, Alserkal Avenue opening on 13 March this year.

Fahrelnissa Zeid, Marie-Alice, 1988, oil on canvas (est. £70,000-100,000)

Fahrelnissa Zeid’s dynamic and spellbinding portraits are utterly unique studies of form and colour. Her avid belief that portraiture ought to be free from reproducing physical appearance, and instead render the aura of the subject, resulted in personal visual embodiments of her close friends and family. In this painting, she presents Marie-Alice Leclercq, wife of the French Ambassador to Egpyt, who was known for her alluring confidence and flair. Zeid’s works are held in the collections of leading museums internationally, including Tate Modern, London, Istanbul Modern, Istanbul and Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art in Doha.

Mansour Ghandriz, Skull and Palette, 1958, oil on canvas (est. £35,000-45,000)

Despite his tragically short life, Mansour Ghandriz, part of the Saqqakhaneh School of Iranian modernist artists, forged a unique personal style. Incorporating the figurative techniques of the Old Masters to his own brand of figurative abstraction, as mystical symbols were intertwined with traditional and modern elements.

This rare and beautiful still life dates from his early period while he was training at the School of Fine Arts in Tehran, and evokes the influences of Matisse, Picasso and Persian miniatures.

Ramses Younan, Untitled, circa 1935, oil on canvas (est. £50,000-70,000)

Ramses Younan was a prominent founding member of the Art and Liberty Group in Egypt, who sought to establish a new type of Surrealism that allowed for radical dreaming. Painted when the artist was just twenty-two, this work takes on the pyramid of wealth and power, tackling disparities in society. Influenced by Dalí, Younan uses a muted earthy palette and distorted imagery to represent the dominant figure who hovers intimidatingly amid the faceless forms. It was exhibited in Paris' Centre Pompidou in 2016, as part of the seminal, critically-acclaimed exhibition Art et Liberte: Rupture, War and Surrealism in Egypt (1938-1948).

Bahman Mohasses, Tiserias non sapeva tanto del future, 1970, oil on canvas, in three parts (est. £120,000-180,000)

This powerful, monumental masterpiece by Bahman Mohasses takes on the Greek myth of the oracle Tiresias, giving an insight into the psyche of the enigmatic artist. The frenetic, theatrical painting evokes Francis Bacon’s anthropomorphic figures and the dark imagination of Max Ernst.

Throughout his oeuvre, Mohasses created dystopic figures and realities, grappling with nihilism and angst. Here he counters that myth that even the ‘soothsayer’ Tiresias could see the future, in a message of hopelessness. The bird, or beaked figure, a central motif in his works, becomes the visual embodiment of pessimism.


London | Melica Khansari | | +44 (0)20 7293 6000

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