Mother and Child, fruitwood and mixed media, inscribed with the artist's name and the title on the base, 43 x 30 x 14cm. (16 15/16 x 11 13/16 x 5 1/2in) max.
Provenance: Private UK collection; acquired directly from the artist following an exhibition in Baghdad in 1954 and thence by descent.
Published: Abbas El-Saraf, Jawad Salim, Baghdad 1972. p.22
Illustrated: The Magazine of the Iraq Petroleum Company, volume 4, number 2, September 1954.
Mother and Child was bought by the current owners mother following an exhibition of Jewad Selim's work in Baghdad in 1954. The sculpture then remained on display in the family home and was never publicly exhibited although its whereabouts were known. When the owner emigrated to the UK in 1959 the sculpture was kept in her brother's home in Waziriya, a north Baghdad suburb, until it was brought to London in 1961.
'The contemporary art movement in Iraq dates back to the second decade of the 20th century, however modern art developed in the late 1940s with the efforts of two leading masters, namely Faeq Hassan and Jewad Selim.
'Both artists studied in Paris and later returned to give lectures at the Institute of Fine Arts, Baghdad in the late 1930s and worked to implement rules and standards for artists studying at the Institute.
'Each aspired to produce distinctive works of art that could be seen as quintessentially Iraqi. Hassan was mainly concerned with rendering a local visual scene, but Selim aspired to reassert national artistic identity by reverting to the roots of the local ancient civilization while benefiting from modern Western artistic trends.
'Jewad Selim studied art in both Paris and Rome, but returned to Iraq when war broke out. In Baghdad he founded the sculpture department at the Institute of Fine Arts and led morning and evening classes, meanwhile diligently producing significant paintings and sculptures. He also held a position in the Iraqi Archeological Museum which allowed him direct contact with the nation's history. He did not only discover the great achievements of the ancient Iraqi artists, but also encountered reproductions of the 13th century Iraqi miniaturist Yahya al Wasiti. Such encounters with the past evoked an awareness that would reflect on his future works. Selim went back to Europe again to complete his training, this time he went to England.
'Upon his return to Baghdad in 1949, Selim was determined to produce what he termed as Iraqi art. He strove to develop aesthetic values in art mainly derived from Islamic miniatures, decorative motives, folkloric elements and Arabic characters. The circle and the square were the basic geometric forms from which he generated his abstract compositions in paintings and sculptures. The crescent was one of his favorite elements; due to its shape (arch), and public sense, being a cosmic element with a religious connotation.
'The end of the 1940s in Iraq witnessed a surge of political and social awareness hitherto unseen in Iraqi society and there had been a general consensus for the need of a radical change in all aspects of life. This social awakening coincided with the return of a generation of Iraqi scholars, architects, scientists and artists returning home from their studies in numerous Western universities. They were passionate to renovate the whole structure calling for renewed interrelations between national and international cultures. Two influential revolutions broke out in cultural life; introducing modern poetry and modern art. Jewad Selim was one of the leading forces, which truly earned him the moniker as the 'father of modern Iraqi art'.
'Jewad Selim's work matured noticeably during the 1950s and it was in 1951 that he formed an artistic group called The Baghdad Group of Modern Art. During the opening of the group's first exhibition Selim gave a lecture on the meaning of art and its role as a means to address society and to enhance the awareness of the public. It was followed by the delivery of the group's artistic manifesto, the first of its kind in Iraq, which summarized the group's theory and artistic vision.
'Selim was fascinated by the works of Matisse, Picasso and perhaps most of all by Henry Moore, but was also greatly moved by Ancient Mesopotamian art as well as Egyptian and Arab Islamic arts. Henry Moore was a visiting lecturer at Slade School of Art when Jewad Selim was a student. The influence of Moore's sculptures on Jewad is asserted by Shakir Hassan Al-Said, Jewad's student and colleague in his book Fusoul min Tarikh al Haraka al Tashkiliya fil Iraq, Baghdad, 1983, part 1, p. 211. Moore's sculptures, which were heavily influenced by Mesopotamian art works, inspired Selim and led him to understand how this artist manipulated the rules of ancient Iraqi masters.
'The theme of the mother and child was one that exploded in him a latent sense of belonging to his homeland and ignited his deep affection for his mother. He came to realise that this theme was one of the prime motives for the production of art in ancient Iraq, being the symbol of fertility in one of the earliest agricultural civilizations in history. Selim could be said to have discovered his cultural roots in the bosom of motherhood.
'Mother and child had been insistently a favorite theme in Jewad Selim's art, one of which is the present wood sculpture produced in 1954.
'Motherhood in this work is diverted in a form of a crescent. The curved form inspired by a mother's body in an act of devotion, or a womb, ready to receive the ovule that hangs down by a thread connected to one of the two points of the crescent. The sculpture stands on a tripartite base that is suggestive of a woman's body in a state of labor.
'Jewad Selim culminated his artistic achievements in producing his master piece The Monument of Freedom, commemorating the 1958 revolution. This mural, composed of fourteen sculpted reliefs, put the artist under great stress that would ultimately lead to his untimely death in January 1961. In this monumental work, reminiscent of ancient Assyrian murals, the theme of mother and child, shaped in the form of a crescent, seems to be present in several parts of the components.'
Bonhams would like to thank May Muzzafar for her assistance in cataloguing this lot.