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Middle Eastern Art Week led by £5.4 million portrait of Suleyman the Magnificent & 12 artist records
This striking portrait of a young Suleyman the Magnificent (circa 1520) sparked a lengthy three-way bidding battle today. Courtesy Sotheby's.

LONDON.- The Arts of the Islamic World sale, which explores over 1,200 years of creativity and craftsmanship across several continents, brought a total of £9,914,625 / $12,951,475 (est. £4.2-6.1 million). One of the few Western images of an Eastern potentate by a European artist, this striking portrait of a young Suleyman the Magnificent (circa 1520) sparked a lengthy three-way bidding battle today, which saw it surpass its estimate of £350,000 – 500,000 by eighteen times to sell for £5,323,500 / $7,035,005. Testament to its rarity, Suleyman does not seem to have commissioned any portraits, and so details of his appearance were conveyed through sketches by those who had accompanied foreign embassies to the Ottoman court, and so it is very likely that either Andrea Gritti or his son Alvise Gritti were the patrons behind this portrait.

Edward Gibbs, Sotheby’s Middle East & India Chairman, said: “There has been a real buzz in our exhibitions over the past week, and this sense of excitement has carried through into the saleroom – with enthusiastic bidding from private collectors and institutions alike. One snapshot into this was the fervour and determination with which three bidders – including one joining us from online – battled it out for the Venetian portrait of fabled Ottoman Sultan Suleyman the Great, an artwork that perfectly encapsulates the desired elements of rarity, provenance and beauty, as well as the notion of creative synergy between different cultures that is so inherent in our category. There was a real breadth to the offering, which was reflected by the depth of bidding, and the range of records set for artists across the region and beyond was for both established, institutional, and indeed treasured, artists alongside names that we were introducing to our collectors for the first time. It is wonderful to witness, and to play a role in, an ever-increasing audience discovering the truly global appeal of this area of the market.”

A further highlight of the auction was a rare intact Iznik ‘Golden Horn’ pottery dish, circa 1530, one of the last remaining examples of the unusual style which took its inspiration from contemporary illumination. Returning to the same saleroom it was last offered in 1986, the important piece made £531,000 / $701,717.

A number of exquisite examples of Indian miniature painting were met with demand across the auction. A remarkable early 17th century Mughal version of a 1524 engraving by Dürer of the powerful ruler Frederick the Wise, Elector of Saxony, sold for five times its estimate at £102,500 / $135,454, and a previously unknown illustration of a battle raging outside a walled fortress, attributed to royal artist Sur Das doubled its estimate at £143,750. The selection of precious Indian jewellery in the sale was led by an important imperial gem-set and enamelled turban ornament (sarpech), from the family of Hari Singh Nalwa, which made a double-estimate £350,000 / $462,525.

The sale also featured fine rugs and carpets, led by an inscribed and dated intensely golden Persian silk rug – made for Fath-‘ali Shah, the second Qajar emperor of Iran – which doubled its estimate to make £150,000.

A vibrant international platform for Middle Eastern Modern and Contemporary art, yesterday’s auction soared beyond expectations to bring £3,458,000 / $4,473,615 (est. £2.1-2.9 million) – with 91% of the lots finding a buyer, and over half of these surpassing their high estimates. The result stands as the second-highest total achieved since the reintroduction of the sale in London in 2015. The auction was led by Iraqi Modernist Mahmoud Sabri’s rare, monumental masterpiece The Death of a Child (1963) sold for a double-estimate £891,000 / $1,152,687. Appearing on the market for the first time since it was acquired directly from the artist in the 1980s, this bold, poignant work set a new auction record for the celebrated artist.

A further highlight was a record for Huguette Caland, one of Lebanon’s most influential female icons whose first UK museum show is set to open at the Tate St Ives later this month. A rich crimson and emerald work on the female form, lovingly painted in 1973, sold for £187,500 / $242,569. Continuing the celebration of Lebanese female artists, a record was also achieved for beloved painter and poet Etel Adnan. Brimming with energy, a dazzling canvas from the 1960s, reminiscent of the landscapes from which she drew her inspiration, made its auction debut at £131,250 / $171,137, more than triple its estimate.

Elsewhere in the sale, records tumbled for artists from the across the region, including Iranian architect Siah Armajani, whose first major US retrospective opened at The Met Breuer in February, Emirati pioneer Hassan Sharif, Saudi artist Mohammed Al Saleem, self-taught Lebanese artist Willy Aractingi and photographer to the stars Firooz Zahedi. There were a number of benchmark prices achieved for artists making their debut at auction, including Emirati conceptual artist Mohammed Ahmed Ibrahim, Saudi artists Nabila Al Bassam, Abdullah Al Marzook and GCC, Egyptian surrealist Mamdouh Ammar, Kuwaiti artist Thuraya Al-Baqsami and Palestinian painters Abed Abdi and Samira Badran.

The day also saw strong prices for rare works by ‘blue chip’ names Mahmoud Mokhtar and Bahman Mohasses. A rare and important bronze by Egypt’s most significant sculptor, gifted to his teacher Jules-Félix Coutan in the 1930s, Three Beggars (circa 1929-30), sold for £150,000 / 194,055. Elmo Antico (1969), an intellectual insight into both the artist’s love for ancient civilisations and the grotesque malformation he saw in humankind, sold for £150,000 / $194,055.

Now in its eighth season, The Orientalist Sale brought a total of £5,367,500 / $6,943,935 (est. £5-7.3 million / $6.5-9.4 million) and was led by Jean-Léon Gérôme’s rare masterpiece, Rider and His Steed in the Desert. The painting, which last changed hands when it was sold by the Fine Art Society in 1980, achieved £1,155,000 / $1,494,224. One of Gérôme’s most famous compositions, Evening Prayer, Cairo commanded the second highest price when it sold for £735,000 / $950,870.

The sale opened with a superb and rare group of watercolours by David Roberts, which had remained in the same distinguished private collection since they were acquired in the 1970s and 1980s. Together, the 13 works brought a total of £560,625 / $725,281, exceeding the pre-sale high estimate for the group (£350,000-533,000 / 452,795-689,542).

Four new artist records were set, for Auguste Veillon (Halt in the Desert, sold for £312,500 /$404,281); Carl Haag (The Holy Rock, Jerusalem, sold for £275,000 / $355,768); Carl Saltzmann (Leander's Tower and the Old City Beyond, Constantinople, sold for £275,000 / $355,768), and Enrico Tarenghi (The Entertainers, sold for £118,750 / $153,627).

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