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Sotheby's To Sell An Historic Album Photographs Recording the First British Royal Visit to Saudi Arabia and Bahrain
Saudi Arabia--HRH Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone and The Earl of Athlone. Estimate: 50,000—70,000 GBP. Photo: Sotheby´s.
LONDON.- Sotheby´s London announced that it will offer for sale as part of the Travel, Atlases, maps and Natural History sale on Thursday 7th May 2009 two important and rare collections of photographs relating to the Middle East: the first an historic album of photographs recording the first British royal visit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain in 1938 (lot 113, est. £50,000-70,000) as well as a collection of never-before-seen photographs of the Hajj to Makkah in 1908 by Dr Muhammad al Husayni, who was known to have been a photographer but until now his photographs have not been seen in public and his work was thought not to have survived (lot 90, est. £50,000-70,000). The sale, comprising a total of 252 lots and expected to raise in excess of £1.7 million, also includes a comprehensive selection of 150 maps from Arabia dating from the 15th to the 20th century (est. £180,000-220,000).

Commenting on the album of HRH Princess Alice’s trip, Sotheby’s Specialist, Richard Fattorini, said: “This historically important album sheds light on a turning point in Anglo-Saudi relations. The visit was the fist of its kind to the region and it coincided with the hugely important discovery of commercial quantities of oil in the region.”

Album of photographs recording the first British Royal visit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain in 1938
The visit of HRH Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone (pictured on previous page in the traditional Arab dress), was meticulously documented by their nephew Lord Frederick Cambridge who accompanied his aunt and uncle, the Earl of Athlone as aide-de-camp on the trip from 25th February to 17th March. The remarkable collection of photographs and original historic documents contained in the album (lot 113, est. £50,000-70,000) provide a rare insight into Saudi Arabia at a very early stage of its history - the trip having taken place just a year after HM King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud became the first king of the region - and the sale of the album provides the first-ever opportunity to present the images to the public.

The only other known album documenting the visit was produced by Princess Alice herself and is now housed in the collection of the King Abdulaziz Public Library. The photographs of the historic visit are supplemented by handwritten captions, newspaper cuttings of articles covering the visit as well as the original official reports on the royal visit, the purpose of which was not to discuss political affairs but to strengthen friendly ties and communications between Saudi Arabia and Britain.

Princess Alice relates in her memoirs (For My Grandchildren): “Our visit to Saudi Arabia in the winter of 1938 came about through a chance meeting with the Crown Prince Saud in 1936, when he took me to luncheon at Ascot… Out of politeness I said how sorry I was that I had never visited Arabia, though I had been as far as Petra. He at once asked, ‘Why not come to Arabia?’”

In the winter of 1938 Princess Alice and the Earl of Athlone travelled to Saudia Arabia, stopping en route in Cairo and Port Sudan. They arrived at Jeddah where they were received by the Emir Faisal, Governor of the Hijaz and second son of His Majesty King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud, who entertained them to dinner in the evening. The following day, King Abdul Aziz entertained Princess Alice and the Earl of Athlone to tea. Princess Alice in her autobiography describes the meeting with the King: “He himself was a huge man, a great gentleman with a most engaging manner. He was charming and full of jokes, and Granpa and I became his hero-worshippers… I thanked him very much for inviting me, as he had never before asked a female to an audience or a meal.” Indeed, in one of the royal reports it is stated that King Abdul Aziz’s wives, none of whom were not admitted at the event, were so shocked by the reports of the gathering that at first they did not believe that Princess Alice had been received in the way traditionally reserved just for men.

Following further social gatherings with the King they travelled across Arabia from west to east in a motor convoy for several weeks, meeting tribal chieftains and camping in the desert before meeting the Crown Prince Saud, with whom they dined at the Badia Palace, his uncle Ahmed and his nephew Faisal Ibn Turki, as well as visiting Riyadh where they were given a tour of the palace and town. From Riyadh the party moved on to Hofuf and then on to Dhahran where the California Arabian Standard Oil company’s camp was based. It was here at oil well Dammam No.7 on 4th March 1938 that oil was discovered in commercial quantities. King George VI sent a telegram congratulating King Ibn Saud on the discovery which so happily coincided with Princess Alice’s goodwill visit. After visiting the oil wells and drillings, the royal party visited Bahrain where they were received by Sheikh Hamad at his country palace, before flying to Basrah and then on to Cairo and returning by sea to England.

A collection of 85 photographs of the Hajj to Makkah in 1908 by Dr Muhammad al Husayni
Dr Muhammad Al Husayni’s remarkable collection of 85 photographs (lot 90, est. £50,000-70,000) represents a fascinating historic record of the Hajj as well as a unique artistic view of the landscape and traditions of the era. The exciting discovery of this collection of photographs was made recently at a charitable institution in Cairo, and though al Husayni was know to have been a photographer, none of his works had been seen before. These rare photographs present a narrative covering the whole journey of the pilgrim, while focusing on the holy places of Makkah and Al-Madinah, together with the ports and legation.

The number of pilgrims from India to Arabia was considerable – it is estimated that 13,397 Indians passed through the port of Jeddah in 1908, and as a Muslim photographer al Husayni did not need permission to enter Makkah. The photographs show pilgrims on board boats, various ships, arriving at the port of Jeddah, buildings in Jeddah, the route between Jeddah and Makkah, the valley of Mina, Makkah, the Ka’bah and Arafat, the Mahmal and dignitaries accompanying the pilgrimage, including the Egyptian Amir El-Hajj, the Ottoman Governor of Jeddah, the Governor of the Hijaz, the representative of the sharif of Makkah and their guards.

A comprehensive selection of 150 maps from Arabia dating from the 15th to the 20th century is also included in the sale, estimated at £180,000-220,000.



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