Fahr El-Nissa Zeid (Turkish, 1900-1991) Portrait of King Hussein of Jordan (Eternal Youth)

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Lot 16*
Fahr El-Nissa Zeid
(Turkish, 1900-1991)
Portrait of King Hussein of Jordan (Eternal Youth)

Sold for £ 121,250 (US$ 156,695) inc. premium
Fahr El-Nissa Zeid (Turkish, 1900-1991)
Portrait of King Hussein of Jordan (Eternal Youth)
oil on canvas, framed
signed "Fahr El-Nissa Zeid" in Arabic (lower right), inscribed "His Majesty King Hussein, Jordan 1973, No.13" on the verso
173 x 123cm (68 1/8 x 48 7/16in).


  • Provenance:
    Property from the collection of Princess Alia Al Hussein

    Amman, Qasr Al Thaqafa, Fahrelnissa and Her Institute, 1981

    Amman, Fahrelnissa Zeid Institute of Fine Arts, Fahrelnissa Zeid and Her Institute: Exhibition Catalogue, 1981

    Andre Parinaud, The Royal National Jordanian Institute Fahrelnissa Zeid Fine Arts, Fahr El Nissa Zeid, 1984, illustrated on page 136

    "My father's painting – Prince Raad gave it to me after my father passed away saying it was the most fitting place for it as his eldest child"
    "King Faisal of Saudi Arabia was on a state visit here and my father decided the night before the visit ended that he would jolly well wear Arab (and in particular a Hashemite family style) dress – so he just put it on and left the house to pick up King Faisal and escort him to the airport – King Faisal had not realised it was my father when he walked and walked straight past him! – it's actually the only formal time that I recall him ever wearing that"


    King Hussein bin Talal was the King of Jordan from 1952 until his death in 1999. At the time of his death, he was the longest serving executive head of state in the world. He ascended the throne when his father, the reigning king, Talal I bin Abdullah, was forced to abdicate the throne due to health reasons in 1952.

    Hussein, the crown prince, was thus proclaimed the new King of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Since Hussein was just 16 years old at time, a Regency Council was appointed till he came of age. King Hussein believed in maintaining peace and was not in favor of war which according to him was futile. Jordan was going through a period of strife and turmoil when he came to power, and he tried his best to bring about stability and peace in the Middle East.

    Hussein had inherited a young kingdom and the then Jordanian controlled West Bank in 1953 when he was a 17-year old schoolboy. The country had few natural resources, and a large Palestinian refugee population resulting from the 1948 Arab–Israeli War. Hussein led his country through four turbulent decades of the Arab–Israeli conflict and the Cold War, successfully balancing pressures from Arab nationalists, and Western countries and Israel—transforming Jordan at the end of his 46-year reign to a modern stable state. Because of his compassionate nature and pacifist efforts he was known to his people as the 'Al-Malik Al-Insan'—The Humane King.

    He was widely regarded as the Middle East's peacemaker. He was revered for pardoning political dissidents and opponents, and giving them senior posts in the government. Hussein, who survived dozens of assassination attempts and plots to overthrow him, was the region's longest reigning leader. The King died at the age of 63 from complications of cancer recurrence on 7 February 1999, his funeral was the largest gathering of world leaders since 1995. He was succeeded by his eldest son Abdullah II.


    Fahrelnissa Zeid's Amman portraiture: Rituals of Friendship and Re-invention.
    Adila Laïdi-Hanieh, Ph.D.


    The last fifteen years of Fahrelnissa's life were a consolidation and transformation of her previous work. She enjoyed a lifelong stamina that made her swim for hours in the Mediterranean, and paint in record speed monumental abstract paintings. In her eighties in Jordan, Fahrelnissa divided her time leading an active social life, teaching, painting, and travelling. She bifurcated her art practice into two directions: teaching abstract painting, and painting portraits. These portraits were also a transformation of her earlier styles, evidencing Fahrelnissa's constant innovation, into the last years of her life. These portraits are first, ritualistic tokens of affection towards her sitters whom she chose and presented with their portraits. Further, within her Amman output, Fahrelnissa developed a new genre of archetypal royal-mythological portraiture; the two works offered in this sale are chief examples of that new genre.

    Amman Period

    Settling in Jordan in 1975, Fahrelnissa would live in a quiet town of fewer than a million inhabitants. She lived near her son Prince Raad and his family. Fahrelnissa also found there members of the extended Hashemite Royal Family she had known over the years. The country lacked then the familiar institutional arts landmarks that constituted her life since she was an adolescent. She therefore proceeded to reconstitute them around her. First, she reproduced in her new house the timeless décor of her previous homes. The interiors were a panoramic representation of her life, art, and of her inner worlds. This decor served to create a familiar cocoon around Fahrelnissa as well as introducing her to her visitors, as Fahrelnissa was always receiving new people. She opened her house to anyone who wanted to discuss his or her art practice, as well as entertaining family, diplomats, etc. She always received visitors in her usual grand style.

    Then, Fahrelnissa began teaching art in in 1976. She worked first with a small group on Wednesday mornings for group sessions of painting, evaluation and analysis of their works, and discussions of various cultural topics. Within a few years, Fahrelnissa abandoned the group-teaching format to focus on meeting individually the more committed students, while she left the Wednesday mornings to receiving various callers in an art salon type.

    Punctuating her teaching was the seminal 1981 group exhibition Fahrelnissa held with twelve of her students. No hall in Jordan could accommodate the large canvases, so the Cultural Palace's auditorium was emptied of its seats, and converted into a gallery. The exhibition was extended, received wide coverage, and one of its effects was to normalize abstraction as an art practice in the country.

    Late Style

    Fahrelnissa's Amman work exhibited features of what Theodor Adorno and Edward Said called a 'late style', a stylistic quality of works created late in an artist's career, a late output by artists renewed with energy before impending mortality. These peculiarities of style do not necessarily signify quiet closure, but rather 'unresolved contradiction ... non-harmonious, nonserene tension'. Said explains 'lateness' as 'the idea of surviving beyond what is acceptable and normal'. Being at the end, "fully conscious, full of memory." A style in, but apart from, the present.

    Fahrelnissa's exhibited late style both in her practice and in her artistic outlook. Her work bifurcated into two anachronistic directions: She taught modern abstract painting, while she herself retreated into painting portraits. A genre with which she had begun in 1915 when she painted a striking portrait of her grandmother. She then exhibited oil portraits of her family and friends in 1944 at her first solo exhibition. She abandoned portraiture in the 1950s to focus on abstraction, and resumed it in 1959. Her Amman portraits are 'full of memory' of her 1940s and 1960s portraits, yet constitute a departure. Fahrelnissa thus manifested lateness as being both in the future and in a revisited past: 'in, but oddly apart from, the present'.

    Fahrelnissa continued producing in Amman the type of portraits she developed in the 1960s: bust and half-length portraits of her gallerists, family members, and friends. The 1980s works however, manifested a change. Fahrelnissa had since the 1940s, focused on developing and renewing her practice, as she explained: 'I rarely repeat myself. As soon as I have attained a new angle in my composition ... I struggle to express myself in a new way.'

    The Amman portraits reveal an exercise in pure painting in simplified Fauvist-expressionist chromatic juxtapositions. Many recall paintings by Van Dongen whom she met in the 1920s, and often mentioned to her students. However, they also share a recognizable 1980s Fahrelnissa workmanship: Static composition, highly stylized ageless sitters, enlarged eyes amidst generic features. They bear the mark of her lifelong influence by the writings of Carl Jung on archetypes and the collective unconscious. Fahrelnissa also abandons her 1960s and 1970s visages with nuanced flesh tones vigorously furrowed with a palette knife; she compensates the flatness of the compositions by returning to her 1930s and 1940s figurative expressionism, and introduces cloisonnism: shaping colour fields with a black outline, according to the modernist disregard for visual continuity and three-dimensionality. What Fahrelnissa gave up in textural layering, she made up for with stark chromatic contrasts. Making these paintings look like colour studies rather than portraits. Another important feature was the systematic featuring of an error, in either proportion, perspective, colour, or finishing; to underscore that portraiture ought to be free from reproducing physical appearance and should instead 'give life'.

    Further, within her Amman portraiture, Fahrelnissa inaugurated a body of work that fit the identity of some of her subjects: She painted large three-quarter-length portraits, hybrids of Old Master royal portraiture and of regional mythologies. These works feature highly stylized costumes and culturally specific detailing, as her own transformation of traditional portraits of royalty with mythological borrowings, endowed with a hieratic archetypal presence. The two works offered in this sale are chief examples of Fahrelnissa's new genre of royal portraiture.

    Two Royal Portraits

    King Hussein's portrait is one of the most powerful of that period. Fahrelnissa had known the King as a boy. She first met his mother the future Queen Zein in 1938 in Baghdad. In 1968, she painted a striking portrait of the Queen that reveals her personality. That same year, she also painted one of her best among her 1960s output, the blue hued portrait of the King's brother, Prince Hassan. Fahrelnissa had known young King Hussein when he was at Harrow with his cousin King Feisal II of Iraq. Later, King Hussein was at the origin of one of Fahrelnissa's important chapters in her life: On a visit to France in 1964, he invited his great uncle and aunt to attend a banquet he gave for General de Gaulle. Fahrelnissa sat next to his famed Culture Minister André Malraux. That meeting was at the origin of Fahrelnissa's developing her poultry bones painting divertissement into a new art form, as Paléokrystalos.

    Fahrelnissa was accustomed to seeing members of the Hashemite royal family dressed in Western clothing. Seeing King Hussein soon after her arrival in Jordan in Arabian dress must have provoked in her a visual shock, which must have prompted her to paint him. This portrait most probably dates to 1973-1975, as Princess Alia states that her father wore these robes to receive King Faisal of Saudi Arabia who dressed in the same manner. King Hussein would have dressed like this in a gesture of respect. Further, the Hashemite family itself originated in the Arabian Peninsula. Fahrelnissa called her painting Eternal Youth, a title that must have evoked the schoolboy Hussein, and the Arabian leader she now saw on television. This portrait was prominently displayed at the 1981 exhibition, its commanding gaze greeting visitors, and its bi-chromatic colour scheme clashing with the chromoluminarist compositions around it.

    Its depthless background recalls Fahrelnissa's late 1950s compositions, but fades before the foreground figure of the King. His round black agal is enlarged and lowered, forming a hovering halo. After photographing the painting for the 1981 catalogue, Fahrelnissa intensified the width and colour of the agal to appear almost as a third eye fixing the viewer. The modernist simple circle and the stylized heavy white folds complement the round jet-black iris, white sclera and black shadows of the King's eyes. The smooth subtle blending of the face's flesh, with gradations of low saturation colours serves to make the face itself fade before the intense gaze. The King appears as a mythological figure peering through time. This uncluttered composition is not a portrait of a former Harrow school-boy, but an embodiment of a Jungian archetype of the hero-champion-protector, head of the Arabian monarchy that Fahrelnissa had lost to the coup in 1958 and was now re-joining by moving to Amman.

    Princess Alia's portrait represents a hybrid archetype, that of the maiden/goddess. The green of her dress recalls the painting that Princess Alia showed at the 1981 exhibition, a monochromatic whirl titled Emerald Dream. In this portrait, Princess Alia stands like a protective pagan deity. Fahrelnissa visualizes here two archetypal entities, a goddess of the earth represented by the green of fertility and abundance, holding a pure white flower as a further symbol of youth. The saturated red background with its heavy impasto emphasizes the force of the archetype represented.

    The striking gold paisley motif intercalated within lozenges, niched within diagonal lines, create a flat pattern that erases the personality of the sitter Fahrelnissa had known as a child, in favour of this figure invented in her royal portraits series: a royal-archetypal representation. This highly artificial hieratic portrait manifests also late-style contradictions. In this case, it juxtaposes the memory of Fahrelnissa's 1940s Fauvist and expressionist practice with its riot of vivid chromatic flatness and lines, with her desire to invent a new tradition of archetypally regal portraiture.
    This desire is averred in the transformation the painting underwent. In the first version documented in the 1984 monograph Fahrelnissa Zeid, Princess Alia's face is carefully rendered with precise detailing of the eyelids, realistically coiffed hair, amber hued irises, finely rendered nose, and well-drawn curved lips with modulated colours. Fahrelnissa then reworked the painting. In the final version, she abandoned techniques that showed her skilled hand, and simplified the traits into arched eyebrows, hooded eyes, added a symbolic round ring instead of the earlier prosaic wedding band, and simplified the hair.

    Fahrelnissa had nothing to prove as an artist at the age of eighty in terms of skill or verisimilitude, and was free to experiment with a new type of portraiture. Thereby, she recalled other artists' late styles, who have "a lifetime of technical effort and preparation ... are egregiously self-conscious and supreme technicians," but "having achieved age, they want none of its supposed serenity or maturity."


    Fahr El-Nissa Zeid

    Fahr El-Nissa Zeid was born in 1901 in Istanbul, Turkey into a distinguished Ottoman family. Her father was Muhammad Sakir Pasha (Kabaagacli) an Ottoman diplomat, brigadier, photographer and historian, who was the brother of Grand Vizier Cevat Pasha, and her mother Sare Ismet Hanim was from Crete. Her immediate family included the writer and artists Cevat Şakir Kabaağaçlı, Fureya Koral and Aliye Berger.

    Fahr El-Nissaa started to sketch and paint at a very young age, attracted by portrait painting and watching her brother Cevat Sakir, who was equally a gifted painter, drawing "the sound of his brush was coming to my ears like a melody. He held my hand and started moving it on the paper. Since that day, neither that sound vanished, nor the passion for painting". Faherelnissa considered art the most meaningful endeavor of her life, writng" while painting, I find myself integrated to all living things. Then I lose myself and become a part of a superhuman creative process, which produces pictures like volcano erupting lava and rocks. Mostly I become aware of the picture only after it is completed".

    In 1919 Fahr El-Nissaa's passion for art led her to attend the Imperial School of Art in Istanbul, where she combined studies in charcoal drawing, perspective and working with plaster with Greek art, aestheticism and impressionist technique.

    Her first marriage at the age of 19 was to the writer and intellectual Izzet Melih Devrim (1887-1966), one of the authors of Servet-I Funun, with whom she had three children: Faruk who died in infancy (1921-23), the painter Nejad Melih Devrim (1923-95) and the actress/director Sirin Devrim (1926-2011).
    In 1924, still grieving the loss of Faruk, Izzet Melih took Fahr El-Nissaa on her first trip to Europe, starting with Venice, whose city and integral art captivated her artistic spirit. Subsequent trips took them to Seville, Granada, Cordoba, Rome and Florence, which gave her the opportunity to study European art, both past and present.

    In Istanbul, the Devrims were favourite guests of the Turkish President Ataturk and attended events at the Dolmabahce Palace when he was in Istanbul. On 29th August 1928 at the Ceremonial Hall of the Palace, Fahr El-Nissaa attended a key historical event in Turkish history, sitting next to Ataturk at the conference on the transition from Arabic to Latin script.

    Later in 1928, the Devrims went to Paris for Fahr El-Nissaa to continue her studies at the Académie Ranson under Roger Bissiere (1888-1964), one of the exponents of the abstract Tachisme style. Encouraged by her tutor Bissiere, Fahr El-Nissaa, whose technique was semi-impressionistic, chose abstract painting, and by fusing influences by the Fauves (1905-07) with her painterly style and bold use of pure colour; the Cubists (1910s-1920s) with their stress on geometry and by the bold black lines of stained glass, created a style all her own, yet acknowledging the traditions of the past.

    Fahr El-Nissa's second marriage, and the one which would come to define the greater part of her life, was to Zeid bin Hussein, the Iraqi Ambassador in Ankara and younger brother of King Faisal I of Iraq. The couple married in Athens in July 1934 and initially lived in Buyukdere, but then Prince Zeid was appointed Iraqi Ambassador to Berlin, where they lived from 1935-37, and where their only child together Prince Ra'ad, was born in 1936.

    Shortly after Germany annexed Austria, the family returned to Istanbul. That summer Sare Ismet, Fahr El-Nissaa's mother, died and they moved to Baghdad, where she wore a veil for the first time since 1919. A life of seclusion and segregation in Baghdad brought on depression and, following the death of King Ghazi (Prince Zeid's nephew), Fahr El-Nissaa went to Paris and the family reunited in Istanbul in the summer of 1939. Her emotional state remained affected and in 1940, leaving her family behind, she went o Budapest to concentrate on painting, concentrating on scenes of city life; cafe scenes people sitting on church steps and ice skaters.

    In the summer of 1941, the family moved back to their villa at Buyukdere, where Fahr El-Nissaa converted the stable into her studio, from where she painted intensively. She associated herself with a circle of young Turkish artists known as the 'D Group', founded in 1933, was not representative of any particular artistic idea, but welcomed new trends coming from both Oriental and Western worlds, a trend very much present in Fahr El-Nissaa's works.

    After the war, Prince Zeid was appointed the first Iraqi Ambassador to the Court of St James'. Thus, they moved to London where they would remain for many years, with Fahr El-Nissaa converting one of the maids rooms of the embassy into a studio and continued to paint. She also rented a studio in Paris and held a string of exhibitions in both cities, with the opening of her first London exhibition in 1947 at the St George's Gallery attended by Queen Elizabeth, an exhibition that led the art critic Maurice Collis to write that Fahr El-Nissaa "was an artist to be taken very seriously" and that her works "have a matured technique of great virtuosity and beauty.

    It was during these years of the second half of the 1940s that her work moved from figurative to more abstract, as seen in 1948's Loch Lomond and Tents, and the 1949's Abstract Parrot. Her breakthrough into the international arena came when she presented her large-scale abstract paintings at the Hugo Gallery in New York in 1950, including the work the man-moon voyage, which attracted good reviews from the art critics and made her name as one of the leading abstract artists of the day.

    In July 1958, the Iraqi royal family was murdered in a bloody coup, Princes Zeid and Ra'ad survived as they were in Ischia at the time. Life changed dramatically for Princes Zeid and his family, who found themselves having to leave the Iraqi Embassy in London and move to a small house.

    It was also after this tragedy that Fahr El-Nissaa started to paint portraits again, telling her daughter Sirin Devrim that the warmth of a human being whilst working on a portrait was helpful, a genre that would become her main focus from the late 1960s.

    Prince Zeid died in 1970, leaving Fahr El-Nissaa distraught. She continued to hold exhibitions, including the 1072 exhibition Fahr El-Nissaa Zeid. Portraits et Peintures Abstraites at Galerie Katia Granoff in Paris, which included a haunting large-scale portrait of her late husband. Her portraits showed a distinct stylistic nod to the past, in particular the facial articulation of Byzantine iconography, her ultimate aim was to show the essence of the spirit of the sitter rather than every physical detail, leading Katia Granoff to call her a "soul-thief".

    In 1976, she moved to Amman, Jordan, to be close to Prince Ra'ad and his family. There she taught at the Royal Art Institute and established the Fahr El-Nissaa Institute of Fine Arts. She passed away in 1991.

    Fahr El-Nissa took part in approximately fifty exhibitions around the world. During her career, she was decorated with major awards, including a First-Class award of the Iraqi Order of Osmaniyeh. Having lived her life on an international stage, both as a princess and an artist, witnessing a number of major historical events, Fahr El-Nissaa displayed an aptitude to change, which is evident in her work, with concrete and abstract standing side by side.

Saleroom notices

  • Please note the measurements above are framed dimensions, the artist herself used framed dimensions in the original exhibition catalogue for the work and we have therefore included the frame as part of the overall composition. The unframed dimensions of the work are 155 x 105 cm
Fahr El-Nissa Zeid (Turkish, 1900-1991) Portrait of King Hussein of Jordan (Eternal Youth)
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