Jewad Selim (Iraq, 1919-1961) Woman Selling Material

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Lot 14*
Jewad Selim
(Iraq, 1919-1961)
Woman Selling Material

Sold for £ 221,000 (US$ 270,346) inc. premium
Jewad Selim (Iraq, 1919-1961)
Woman Selling Material
oil on board, framed
signed "Jewad Selim" in Arabic and dated "1953" (lower right), executed in 1953
54.5 x 43.5cm (21 7/16 x 17 1/8in).


  • Provenance:
    Property from a private collection, Portland, Maine
    Originally sold in Portland Maine, 1954, during a travelling exhibition by the artist

    The Jewad Selim Touring Exhibition, organised by the American Friends of the Middle East, March-April 1954:
    Maine, Portland, L.D.M Sweat Museum, 1954
    Philadelphia, De Braux Gallery, 1954
    Pittsburgh, Bellefield Avenue Gallery, 1954
    Chicago, Headquarters of the Midwestern office of the American Friends of the Middle East, 1954
    New York, Middle East House, 1954

    Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Iraqi Artist Shows Work Here , Thursday March 11th 1954, illustrated on cover
    New York, American Friends of the Middle East, Third Annual Report of the Executive Vice President to the Board of Directors and the National Council of the American Friends of the Middle East, Inc., July 1953-June 1954


    Bonham's are most privileged to present perhaps one of the rarest and most sought after works of Iraqi art to come to auction in recent history, from the father of Iraqi Modernist, Jewad Selim.

    Jewad Selim painted Woman Selling Material in 1953 for his one-man touring show of the United States, a travelling exhibition which would result in a heap of critical acclaim and which was widely reported on in local American media; an extraordinary achievement for a Middle Eastern artist at the time.

    Compositionally, Woman Selling Material is perhaps the archetypal Jewad Selim; painted at the zenith of his career, the work flawlessly expresses the aesthetic and conceptual agenda of the "Baghdad Group of Modern Art" which Jewad himself co-founded. The Baghdad group was defined by an attempt to reconcile the grand visual legacy of the past within the contemporary cultural and nationalistic narrative of 20th century Iraq.

    Mixing traditional Iraqi and Islamic motifs with a modernist visual language, Selim weaves a form of "folk modernism" which is both vernacular and universal. Focusing on the florid landscape of downtown Baghdad, Selim's composition is populated with the humorous and extravagant characters encountered in everyday life. Light hearted and boisterous, the "Woman Selling Material" is in part a stylistically sophisticated example of a burgeoning modernist movement in Iraq and in part a playful take on life in streets of Baghdad.

    There is only one recorded appearance of a Jewad Selim oil painting from the Baghdad Modern Art Group period (1951-61) ever appearing at auction, sold in these rooms in March 2008, and of the limited output Jewad produced in these years, the vast majority of works are in permanent or institutional collections, underscoring the extreme rarity of the work being presented.

    Coming from a private collection in Portland, Maine, where the work was originally exhibited in the 1950's, it presents collectors with perhaps one of the last opportunities to acquire Selim painting from this seminal era.

    "...A new trend in painting will solve the identity crisis in our contemporary awakening, by following the footsteps of the thirteenth century Iraqi masters. The new generation of artists finds the beginning of a guiding light in the early legacy of their forefathers" – Jewad Selim

    Jewad Selim (1919-61)

    It is impossible to understand the modern art movement in Iraq without taking into account the works of this pioneer sculptor and painter, who was undoubtedly the most influential artist in Iraq's modern art movement. To him, art was a tool to reassert national self-esteem and help build a distinctive Iraqi identity. He tried to formulate an intellectual definition for contemporary Iraqi art. In charting his country's contemporary social and political realities, he was committed to combining the indigenous historical and folkloric art forms, with contemporary Western trends.

    Born in Ankara, Turkey in 1919 to Iraqi parents who moved to Baghdad in 1921, Jewad Selim came from a strongly artistic family: his father was an accomplished amateur painter, whose work was influenced by the European old masters, and his brother Nizar and sister Neziha were also accomplished painters, becoming well-known in their own right.

    Jewad was sent to Europe on government scholarships to further his art education, first to Paris (1938-39) and then to Rome (1939-40). The effects of World War II resulted in Jewad cutting short his studies and returning to Baghdad, where he began part-time work at the Directorate of Antiquities, where he developed an appreciation and understanding of ancient art of his country, and he also taught at the Institute of Fine Arts and founded the sculpture department.

    In 1946, he was sent to the Slade School of Art, London. At the Slade, Jewad met his future wife and fellow art student, Lorna. Jewad returned to Baghdad in 1949 to become Head of the Department of Sculpture at the Institute of Fine Arts, where he taught his students to draw on the heritage of their country to create a distinctive Iraqi style and artistic identity, which would become the ethos of an influential art movement just a few years later. In 1950 Lorna joined Jewad in Baghdad, where they were married.

    In 1951, Jewad Selim formed The Baghdad Modern Art Group.. Modern Iraqi art began with the first exhibition of the Baghdad group where they announced the birth of a new school of art that would "serve local and international culture".

    After painting his most mature works in the 1950s, the artist gave up painting and focussed on sculpture, the culmination of which was his Monument for Freedom in Tehrir Square in Baghdad of 1960-61. This was the largest monument built in Iraq in 2500 years ". The time frame presented by the President was unrealistic and the project did not run smoothly. Immense pressure was put on Jewad to finish his work and he suffered a heart-attack. He died one week later on 23rd January 1961 at the age of just forty-one, leaving a wife and two young daughters.

    Woman Selling Material

    Jewad Selim painted Woman Selling Material in 1953 for his one-man touring exhibition of America. At the time, he held three teaching posts: the Women's College in the mornings; the Higher Teachers' Training College in the afternoons; and the Institute of Fine Arts in the evenings.

    The 1953 exhibition caused great excitement and high critical acclaim across the United States, with large numbers of Americans coming to see Jewad's semi-abstract, intriguingly symbolic and forceful creations. Whilst Jewad's exhibition was on show in New York at Middle East House, the home of the American Friends of the Middle East who organised the tour, one art critic was heard to exclaim: "They are so modern". He looked very confused when the artist shook his head and said: "No, they are traditionally Oriental". Jewad explained that he had taken his art training in Europe and agreed that undoubtedly his work did reflect European influence; however the colour and forms he used, he declared, were familiar in the ancient art of Babylonia and the even older Sumerian culture, which he had absorbed whilst working on restorations in the Baghdad Archaeological Museum. At the time, the American press referred to the artist as: "Artist-Diplomat" and declared that he was a "wonderful ambassador of the new Middle East that is slowly emerging out of the ruins of the old". The tour made him the first Arab artist to receive such international recognition, a recognition which ironically preceded any among the general population of Iraq.

    Jewad's early death in 1961 was a shock to the artistic community of Iraq, but his spirit remained and was reignited by a new wave of young artists returning from their studies abroad, who picked up his mantle of extending Iraqi art into the rest of the Arab world and internationally. Jewad had paved the way ahead.
Jewad Selim (Iraq, 1919-1961) Woman Selling Material
Jewad Selim (Iraq, 1919-1961) Woman Selling Material
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