Going, going, gone.... by Layla Haroon

BONHAMS, THE international fine art auction house established in the UK since 1793, will hold its first Middle East auction sale in Dubai this March.


The auction will feature works of some of the biggest names in modern and contemporary Arab, Iranian, Indian and Pakistani art.

“We have a well-established reputation in sales of Indian and Pakistani art in London, where we recently achieved a world-record of £602,400 for the auction of an historic Raj painting by Raja Ravi Varma,” said Claire Penhallurick, Bonhams’ Director of Islamic and Indian Art.

“We are expecting an encouraging and positive response from our first auction in the region. It is early days for the local art scene and difficult to predict the potential of the market, however the opportunity for development is vast.”

The major highlight of Bonhams Dubai auction — at its inaugural — will be the artwork of Iraqi artist Jewad Selim.



Known as the ‘Father of Modern Arab Art’, Selim’s artwork entitled ‘Young Man and his Wife’ is estimated at US$200,000 - 300,000 and is the first ever seminal art piece of the artist being offered at an auction.

It depicts a portrait of the artist and his wife, Lorna — showing the pair staring out of the canvas in the manner of Picasso or Modigliani.

The painting draws iconographic inspiration from decoration on 10th century Abbasid ceramics, a style based on simplicity of line and abstract motifs giving it a curiously modern appearance.

It was painted in 1953 for his one-man touring exhibition of America; since then, this piece was selected to remain within the family after the exhibition and has rarely been publicly viewed. So, it comes to Bonhams with a distinct provenance, having been contributed directly by the artists’ family.

“We are honoured to be able to offer such an important work by Jewad Selim, the father of modern Iraqi art. The surviving body of work of this young artist, whose influence was to inspire generations to follow, is extremely important to the history of modern art in the Middle East,” said Penhallurick.

“His early death was a shock to the artistic community of Iraq, but his spirit remained and was reignited by a new wave of young artists. After paving the way forward, this new wave picked up Selim’s mantle of extending Iraqi art and influence into the rest of the Arab world and globally.”

“It is impossible to understand the modern art movement in Iraq without taking into account the works of this pioneer artist. To Selim, art was a tool to reassert national self esteem and build a distinctive Iraqi identity,” she added.

Other highlights

Founder of India’s Progressive Artists’ movement in 1947, Francis Newton Souza’s 1955 work ‘The Elder’ — with an estimated value of US $240,000-300,000 — will be the second highlight of the Bonhams Dubai auction. He is internationally-renowned as an articulate genius, augmenting his disturbing and powerful canvases with his sharp, stylish and provocative prose.

Stressing on the uniqueness of Souza's paintings, Penhallurick said that his works express defiance and impatience with convention and with the banality of everyday life, and reflect the influence of various schools of art — the folk art of his native Goa, the full-blooded paintings of the Renaissance and the path-breaking paintings of the moderns.”

‘The Dream,’ with an estimated value of US$25,000 –35,000, by award-winning Iranian artist Nasser Ovissi will be another auction highlight. Ovissi perpetually merges his passion and admiration for his Persian heritage on canvas. His works can be seen in both private and public collections across Europe, Asia and the United States.

Respected Syrian artist Louay Kayyali’s oil on canvas, ‘The Lottery Boy’ or ‘Seller of Yanaseeb’, will be auctioned with an estimated value of US$50,000 –70,000.

Penhallurick further said: “Bonhams’ wouldn’t be surprised if this becomes a rising trend here in the UAE with local buyers’ interest in contemporary Islamic and modern Arab art becoming a key growth market. We’ve noticed a worldwide trend in emerging markets with booming economies, with first-time collectors wishing to purchase contemporary art from their own indigenous regions.”

Matthew Girling, Bonhams’ European & Middle East Chief Executive added, “The UAE is definitely destined to become one of the world’s leading art markets, which is why we’re here. We’ve studied the market intensely before entering the region, and believe we’ll have something special to add in the arena of contemporary Islamic and modern Arab art.”

Additional contemporary Arab artists featured in the auction include: Ahmed Moustafa, Adam Henein, Muddares, Hadi, Guiragossian and from Iran, Farhad Moshiri, Tanavoli, Zendroudi and Sepehri. India is well represented by B Prabha, Avinash Chandra and Swaminathan with Sadequain, Chughtai, Shakir Ali and Jamil Naqsh from Pakistan also being shown.

The event comes as a joint venture with the locally-based Al Tajir family, which is renowned as fine art and collectibles connoisseurs. The partnership represents an historical joining of forces between two of the most prominent names on the global art stage.

Without any doubt, the recent opening of Bonhams Dubai is a significant step in the company’s rapid global expansion as Bonhams is today one of the world’s largest and fastest growing auction houses. With 2006 worldwide gross sales of nearly $500 million, it is a clear number three in the global market.
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