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Record-breaking Ottoman textile leads £13 million week of Middle Eastern art auctions
Fahrelnissa Zeid, Towards a Sky, 1953. Est. £550,000-650,000. Photo: Sotheby's.

LONDON.- As part of Sotheby’s Orientalist and Middle Eastern Art Week, a group of three sales dedicated to art produced across the Islamic world from ancient to modern times, 236 lots sold to bring £12,960,125 / $15,661,120 (est. £8,617,700-12,351,800), with over half of the offerings exceeding their pre-sale high estimates. An auction record was set as an Ottoman panel from the collection of Argine Benaki-Salvago soared to £1.1 million / $1.4 million. Six artist records were achieved across the week including for works by pioneering Iranian modernist Bahman Mohasses, leading Egyptian Surrealist Fouad Kamel and 19th-century Bohemian painter Georg Emanuel Opiz.

Edward Gibbs, Sotheby’s Middle East & India Chairman, said: “Our London auctions of Middle Eastern art continue to go from strength to strength, presenting an array of extraordinary artworks and objects of exceptional quality and rarity. There was strong private and institutional interest throughout, with museums buying in each of the three sales – a true reflection of the historical importance of the lots on offer. These were our first auctions following the opening of Sotheby’s Dubai, where we showcased many of the highlights, and we are delighted that the series has exceeded expectations, bolstered by a 23% increase in buyers from the MENA region.”

Arts of the Islamic World:
The Arts of the Islamic World presents rare and exquisite objects telling the story of over a thousand years of artistic exchange and influence in the Islamic world. Today’s edition was led by works from prestigious collections, bringing an above-estimate total of £6,078,375 / $7,799,163 (est. £3,730,200-5,436,800).

Unseen for decades, the spectacular museum-quality Ottoman textiles from the collection of Argine Benaki-Salvago sparked fierce competition to total £2,277,875 / $2,922,741 (est. £433,200-654,300). The top lot of the group, a large and exceptional voided silk velvet and metal-thread panel (çatma), with çintamani and tiger-stripe design, achieved a world auction price for an Ottoman textile at £1,076,750 / $1,381,578 (est. £200,000-300,000). Benaki-Salvago was a grande dame of Alexandrian society in the 1930s and her celebrated collection epitomises the richness and diversity of Ottoman courtly taste from the 16th century onwards.

Appearing at auction for the first time in its thousand-year history, the earliest known dated astrolabe from Muslim Spain, signed by the celebrated Andalusi astrolabist Muhammad ibn al-Saffar – the first of his three known pieces and the only example in private hands – sold for £608,750 / $781,087 (est. £300,000-500,000). Also making an auction debut, a highly-important imperial Mughal 54.5 carat spinel, inscribed with the names of Emperors Jahangir, Prince Khurram and ‘Alamgir (Aurangzeb) and dated 1024 AH/1615 AD and 1070 AH/1659 AD achieved £272,750 (est. £60,000-80,000).

Following on from the outstanding results of last October’s sale, the second part of the renowned collection of the late Jafar Ghazi, which comprised 19 manuscripts and calligraphies, sold for £377,875 / $484,851 (est. £122,000-180,000). Each work was selected by Ghazi as an example of the highest-quality calligraphy from multiple Islamic courts over several continents and the selection was led by an illustrated Arabic manuscript of Kitab al-kawakib (‘The Book of Fixed Stars) dated 742 AH/1341 AD that sold for four times its estimate at £50,000 / $64,155. The demand for manuscripts continued throughout the sale, including an impressive large illuminated scroll, containing a series of fine paintings related to the Hajj accompanied by text in Persian and Arabic, which sold for £320,750 / $411,554 (est. £50,000-70,000).

Seventeen works of art from renowned literary publisher and author Tom Maschler’s collection sold for £202,500 / $259,828 (est. £83,500-120,500). Introduced to Indian miniatures by the artist and devoted collector Howard Hodgkin, Maschler bought his first miniature when he was only twenty-one. The group was led by an early 17th century depiction of Mughal nobleman Inayat Khan, one of Emperor Jahangir’s favourite couriers, which sold for thirteen times its pre-sale estimate at £75,000 / $96,232. The result follows landmarks sales of museum-quality collections of Indian miniatures at Sotheby’s, most recently the prestigious Khosrovani-Diba collection that took place last year.

Benedict Carter, Sotheby’s Head of Auction Sales Middle East: “In today’s auction, fascinating stories captured the imagination of museums and private collectors from around the world. The Ottoman textiles, Andalusian astrolabe and imperial Mughal spinel were all important historical rediscoveries, hitherto unknown to the market. Freshness and rarity, combined with impeccable provenance and great beauty, led to intense competition and the superb results that we witnessed in the saleroom.”

20th Century Art / Middle East:
A vibrant and exciting international platform for Modern and Contemporary Arab, Iranian and Turkish art in London, Sotheby’s 20th Century Art / Middle East auction was led by highly sought-after masterpieces to bring £3,494,500 / $4,474,707 (est. £2,029,500-2,714,000) – with a sell-through rate of 88.3% and almost 60% of the lots exceeding their pre-sale high estimates.

The top lot of the sale was the second largest work by Fahrelnissa Zeid to appear at auction, as the kaleidoscopic 2 by 6 metre Towards a Sky, 1953 sold for £992,750 / $1,271,216 (est. £550,000-650,000) – ahead of the artist’s retrospective opening at the Tate Modern in June. One of the most influential female Turkish artists, Zeid’s dynamic works embody a fusion of influences from Islamic, Byzantine, Arab and Persian art combined with stylistic elements from post-war Europe such as Fauvism and Cubism. Zeid kept a photograph of this painting in a frame at her bedside until she passed away and this was the first time that it had appeared on the market since it was last exhibited in 1957.

A rare work by one of Iran’s greatest modern masters Bahman Mohasses tripled the artist’s world record at auction selling for £584,750 / $748,772 (est. £280,000-380,000). Requiem Omnibus (Death of Martin Luther King), 1958 was a personal and raw response to the assassination of Martin Luther King. A further record was set for Fouad Kamel, one of the earliest Surrealist painters in the region and a member of the Art & Liberty movement, as his forceful, twisted composition The Drinker, 1941 sold for £93,750 / $120,047 (est. £22,000-28,000). This was one of seven works from the distinguished collection of German art critic Ursula Schernig, a gallerist who was instrumental in ensuring the legacies of many of Egypt’s leading artists. The Schernig Collection sold for a combined £214,375 / $ 274,508 (est. £84,000-116,000). The auction also saw a record for pioneering female figure of Iraqi modernism Madiha Omar, as The Flying Saucers, 1958 sold for £37,500 / $48,019. One of the first artists to explore the formal qualities of the Arabic letter in contemporary art, Omar was also the first Iraqi woman to receive a scholarship from the government to study in Europe. Benchmarks were set for three dynamic artists from the seminal Contemporary Art Group, Cairo, including Mahmoud Kahlil, Salem el Habashi (Mogli) and Maher Raif.

Mahmoud Said’s Portrait de Mme. Batanouni Bey was acquired for the collection of the soon to be opened Halim Museum of Time & Glass in Chicago. The painting, which sold for £392,750 / $502,916 (est. £150,000-250,000), depicted the beautiful and independent cousin of the artist, Ferdous Hamada.

Ashkan Baghestani, Sotheby’s Contemporary Arab and Iranian Art Specialist and Head of Sale, said: “A wider audience than ever is discovering the talents of these pioneering artists. This was evident throughout, particularly in the enthusiasm that we saw for the work of Fahrelnissa Zeid – which I’m sure will continue into the summer with the opening of her major Tate retrospective in London. In today’s sale, internationally sourced works were met with international buying as we saw fresh to the market museum-quality works proving their perennial appeal.”

The Orientalist Sale:
Launched as an annual event in 2012 and now in its sixth season, The Orientalist Sale brought a total of £3,387,250 / $4,337,374 against a pre-sale estimate of £2,858,000- 4,201,000. Bringing together paintings and sculpture representing the landscapes, people, and customs of North Africa, Egypt, the Levant, Arabia, and the Ottoman world during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the sale was led by a masterpiece by Bohemian artist Georg Emanuel Opiz. The Arrival of the Mahmal at an Oasis en Route to Mecca, a lavish and wonderfully detailed rendition of the Ottoman caravan of the annual Hajj pilgrimage, realised £944,750 / $1,209,752.

Painted some 100 years later, Ludwig Deutsch’s The Procession of the Mahmal through the Streets of Cairo, achieved the second highest price, selling for £308,750 / $395,354. The Fortune Teller, Cairo by Ludwig Deutsch tripled its low estimate to bring £248,750 / $318,524, while a beautifully cast, silvered bronze of an Arab Sheik of Cairo by the great French 19th-century sculptor Charles Cordier, the model for which was conceived on a trip to Egypt in 1866, sold for £87,500 / $112,044.

Claude Piening, Sotheby’s Head of Orientalist Paintings, commented: “The sale saw competitive bidding from collectors in the MENA region and beyond, and established new auction records for three artists: Eugène Baugniès, Jean Lecomte du Nouÿ, and Georg Emanuel Opiz, whose exquisitely rendered early depiction of the Hajj pilgrimage led the sale. Works of the German and Austrian schools – including by Deutsch, Ernst, and Bauernfeind – were in particularly strong demand, with a 100% sell-through rate. The market for Orientalist art continues to show strength, especially for evocative subjects that bring the region to life or shed light on its history.”

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