Today’s 20th Century Art / Middle East auction brought £4.8 million / $5.8 million – the highest total since the introduction of the sale as a regular fixture of the London auction calendar in 2016. The sale was led by a record for any Saudi artist ever to be offered at auction.
Born in 1939, Mohammed Al Saleem was one of Saudi Arabia’s preeminent modern artists, founding a multipurpose, not-for-profit institution to provide a creative space for artistic experimentation and exhibitions – the first of its kind in the Kingdom. . He coined his own new style – ‘Horizonism’ or ‘desert style’ – inspired by the gradating skyline of Riyadh from the desert. This untitled work from 1986 (Lot 12) soared to £889,000 / $1.1 million, 7 times its pre-sale estimate of £100,000-150,000. The artist’s previous record of £75,000 was set at Sotheby’s in 2019.
In 2017, Sotheby’s became the first international auction house to offer works by Saudi artists. Today’s result marks the first time a work by an artist from Saudi Arabia has sold for over $1 million at auction.
Also from the same collection, Artist 2 by Abdul Jabbar Al Yahya (Lot 9) made a benchmark price of £279,400 / $339,848 (estimate: £150,000-200,000), in the artist’s first appearance at auction.
The auction saw a further record, for Lebanese artist Huguette Caland, as a bold painting from 1980 (Lot 49) – dating to the period the artist was living in Paris – sold for £444,500 / $540,668 (estimate: £200,000-300,000). The sensual curves hint at the curvature of the female form, bringing together her playful style of abstraction and the pursuit of capturing beauty and desire on canvas.
Further highlights included:
- Samia Halaby’s Seventh Cross No. 229 (Lot 45) sold for £381,000 / $463,429 (estimate: £100,000-150,000). The work reflects the artist’s fascination with geometry, spatiality and perspective, sparked by the intricate, tessellating patterns inherent in Islamic architecture.
- Abdel Hadi El-Gazzar’s Rate of Movement (Lot 40), sold for £279,400 / $339,848 (estimate: £60,000-80,000). El Gazzar was one of the founders of the Egyptian Contemporary Art Group.
- Etel Adnan, Untitled (Mount Tamalpais) (Lot 3) sold for £215,900 / $262,610 (estimate: £50,000-70,000). In Adnan’s world, mountains are corporeal entities, bounding the skies and the earth together. Mount Tamalpais, which Adnan could see from her window in Sausalito, reminded her of Beirut, a city in the foothills of the mountains.
- Fahrelnissa Zeid’s Ischia (Lot 39) sold for £355,600 / $432,534. The rare painting carries an intimate dedication written on the back of the canvas, written in March 1981, a message to her namesake granddaughter the year she was born.
- Abdulhalim Radwi’s Untitled (Market Scene) (Lot 35) sold for £203,200 / $247,162 (estimate: £40,000-60,000). The 1967 work deftly captures the vibrancy and dynamism of popular life in Saudi Arabia.
- Hamed Nada’s Almared Alarabi (The Arabian Giant) (Lot 42) sold for £190,500 / $231,715 (estimate: 80,000-120,000). Heavily influenced by the dichotomy of Egyptian life, Nada adjoins two divergent identities via his paintings: Egyptian folklore and reality.