by Alina Livneva6 February '19
Islamic art - the most expensive Arabic and Islamic paintings
The art market and growing in popularity
The ability to sell a painting for millions of dollars is not as easy as it looks, hence the overwhelming amount of "starving artists." Long gone artists seem to be able to sell their paintings for so much more than any living artist, yet Arab paintings have been pushing their way into the art market and growing in popularity over the past decade. Here are nine of the most expensive Arab and Islamic paintings to ever be sold:
1. Zainab bint Muhammad
Zainab bint Muhammad is the most expensive painting by British artist Gheorghe Virtosu, sold for $17.8 million. Although Virtosu is legendary for his almost spiritual obsession with abstraction, the meaning behind his work is, in fact, the very root of the philosophy that he nurtures and solidifies in his entire artistic career. His art-making culminate in his masterful abstract paintings series of Prophet Muhammad Daughters, including the unmatched Zainab bint Muhammad (2017). In secular art of the Muslim world, representations of human forms historically flourished in nearly all Islamic cultures, figures in paintings were often stylized, giving rise to a variety of decorative figural designs.
2. Break of the Atom and Vegetal Life
This painting from 1962 by Turkish-Jordanian artist Princess Fahr El-Nissa Zeid, sold for a record-breaking $2.74 million. In Fahr El-Nissa's expansive and prolific oeuvre, Break of the Atom and Vegetal Life can be considered to be one of the most important works that the artist has ever created. Painted in 1962, the large expansive and hypnotizing canvas reflects Zeid's own distinctive style of geometric abstraction, grounded in a rhythmic gesture. Upon reflection of the painting, the viewer is transported into an alternate magical universe conjured up by the artist, the color palette and shapes moving together in a distinct harmony as if meant to push one into a trancelike state.
3. The Whirling Dervishes
It was sold for an astounding $2.54 million at Christie’s auction house in 2010. The second most expensive Arab painting is labeled “The Whirling Dervishes,” and was painted in 1929 by Egyptian artist Mahmoud Said. Mahmoud Said was a central figure in modern Egyptian art, born in Alexandria. He is called the “father of Egyptian modern art.” He abandoned his career as a court judge when he turned fifty to dedicate himself to his art full-time. His paintings are much sought after by collectors. A museum dedicated to his art has opened in Alexandria.
4. Les Chadoufs
Also by artist Mahmoud Said, the painting Les Chadoufs from 1934 was sold at auction for $2.43million, exceeding its pre-sale estimated price of $150,000 - $200,000 by a mile. To complement this powerful classical geometry, Said introduces a timeless and distinctly Egyptian iconography, which includes veiled statuesque women carrying water jars, men drawing water from wells and white long-eared donkeys. The men, dressed only in turbans and loincloths, with their exaggerated postures, minimal clothing, and frieze-like distribution of across the canvas, closely resemble the gigantic male figures carved in low relief on the outer pylons of Upper Egyptian temples.
Painted in 1981 by Iranian painter and sculptor Charles-Hossein Zenderoudi, Tchaar-Bagh was sold for around $1.6 million at Christie’s 2008 international auction in Dubai. It is now nearly half a century that Zenderoudi, the Iranian artist residing in France, considered as one of the ten living important contemporary artists by the editorial board of the French journal Connaissance des Art (1971) and one of the most esteemed founders of Saqakhaneh School. Zenderoudi arrived in Paris at the end of the widespread infatuation with gestural calligraphy.
6. He Is The Merciful
A relatively new painting from 2007 made by Iranian artist Mohammed Ehsai, “He Is The Merciful” was sold only a year later for around $1.16 million, although it was originally estimated to sell for about $100,000 - $150,000. This spectacular painting is one of the largest works by Mohammed Ehsai. Trained first as a calligrapher, Ehsai's large scale paintings demonstrate his mastery of the craft. In his works, the intertwined letters are not meant to be read.
7. The Rukh Carries Amir Hamza to his Home
It was sold at auction for approximately $1.14 million and would have sold for even more had it been in better condition. Dated back to the mid-16th-century, "The Rukh Carries Amir Hamza to his Home" is an Islamic painting and illustration found in "Hamzanama" (The Adventures of Hamza), which is attributed to Daswant (Dasavanta) in collaboration with Shravan (Sharavana) from Mughal, India. Amir Hamza was an uncle of the Prophet Muhammed and the illustration is one of the few that survived over the years.Even in a manuscript celebrated for its fantastic adventure stories and dramatic pictorial qualities, this spectacular illustration from the Hamzanama easily ranks among the most boldly conceived paintings to have survived from the original 1,400 monumental paintings in the most important of all Mughal manuscripts.
Painted in 1992 and sold for $1.14 million in 2016 at the Now and Ten auction in Dubai. Sarajevo by artist Omar El-Nagdi mirroring the horrors of war for Bosnians similar to Picasso’s iconic Guernica. The painting “Sarajevo” by Egyptian contemporary artist Omar El-Nagdi captures the essence of pain and is deemed "the most expressive documentation of life" by Middle Eastern Art specialist Masa Al-Kutoubi.
9. Construction of the Suez Canal
The painting cost its buyer $1.02 million in March of 2014. El-Gazzar has become one of the most iconic Egyptian artists to have lived since 1945. His legacy has left behind a national artistic wealth that has only recently been acknowledged and appreciated.