Mohammed "Hajji" Selim (Iraq, 1883-1941) Still Life

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Lot 2*
Mohammed "Hajji" Selim
(Iraq, 1883-1941)
Still Life

Sold for £ 68,500 (US$ 87,264) inc. premium
Mohammed "Hajji" Selim (Iraq, 1883-1941)
Still Life
oil on canvas, framed
signed "Hajji Selim" and dated "1941" in Arabic (lower right), executed in 1941
56 x 95cm (22 1/16 x 37 3/8in).

Footnotes

  • Provenance:
    Property from a private collection, Jordan
    Acquired from the Dr Baghdadi auction in Iraq, circa 1988

    Exhibited:
    India, Iraqi Art Exhibition in India: Calcutta, Delhi and Hyderabad, Organised by the Ministry of Education of the Government of Iraq, 1955

    Published:
    Selim, Nazar Iraqi Contemporary Art, Milan, 1977

    The present work is one of the most well-known examples of early Iraqi modernism painted by Mohammed "Hajji" Selim, father of prominent Iraqi painter Jewad Selim.

    Mohammed Selim was born in Baghdad. His parents were both originally from Mosel in the North of Iraq. Like many individuals from well to do families in Iraq, Selim was educated at the military academy in Istanbul where students encountered Turkish artistic styles of calligraphy and miniature and landscape painting. During the Ottoman reign Selim became an officer in the Ottoman army as well as an amateur artist.

    Selim eventually settled in Baghdad in the 1920's where he worked as Government employee in the Maidan Quarter in Baghdad. Selim was part of a group of Iraqis who were the first in the modern history of the country to take up art seriously and to bring back this discipline when they returned to Iraq from Turkey. Most were amateurs and only a few pictures of their work are in existence. Selim himself painted in still life, portrait and landscape, but little to no paintings survive from his work.

    Despite its modernism, Nature Morte, like other still-life's, finds its origins in the trompe-l'oeil compositions of the French Old Masters. Like his forebears, Selim set out to capture the essence and allure of each object in his works. His approach, however, in keeping with Cézanne's was rooted in a truly modern belief that "painting does not mean slavishly copying the object: it means perceiving harmony among numerous relationships and transposing them into a system of one's own by developing them according to a new, original logic"

    With this Selim demonstrates that still life—considered the lowliest genre of its day—could be a vehicle for faithfully representing the appearance of light and space. Gone are the allegorical and symbolic elements of old still life painting, and gone too are optical illusions and academic realism; the composition is far softer and more two dimensional, the main focus of interest on the layout of the objects, the treatment of space, and on studying the effects of light on these shapes.

    In many ways, Selim was firmly pursuing still life in the mould of Cezanne', the undisputed 19th century master of the field, on whom Roger Fry comments that "[his still life's were] put together not with ephemeral flowers, but with onions, apples, or other robust and long-enduring fruits, he could pursue till it was exhausted his probing analysis of the chromatic whole. But through the bewildering labyrinth of this analysis he held always like Ariadne's thread, the notion that the changes of colour correspond to movements of planes. He sought always to trace this correspondence throughout all the diverse modifications which changes of local color introduced into the observed resultant".

    In this vein, Selim's composition consists of robust, chromatically varied fruits, the cantaloupe, watermelon, and pomegranate not only extravagant in their own right, but showing a sensitivity to the vernacular as distinctly Middle Eastern fruits. This is augmented by the presence of earthen jars and jugs giving us a culturally distinct take on the still life theme.
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