Fahrelnissa Zeid's monumental portraits of King Hussein and Princess Alia of Jordan were the two top lots at the Bonhams Modern and Contemporary Middle Eastern Art sale on 28 November in London. The portrait of Princess Alia of Jordan, 1982, sold for £234,350 against an estimate of £50,000-70,000; the portrait of King Hussein of Jordan (Eternal Youth), 1973, achieved £121,250. The 78-lot sale made a total of £1,379,725.

Bonhams Head of Modern and Contemporary Middle Eastern Art, Nima Sagharchi said: "We were delighted to offer such seminal works from Zeid's rich and dynamic career – her ability to fuse Byzantine and local traditions in painting with Western Modernism makes her work and character truly fascinating. Not surprisingly, the works were hotly contested and we had intense interest in them from Turkey, Iran and the Arab states. The total result of the sale was very strong and shows the continuing strength of art from the Middle East, which is in demand by international collectors as well as those from the region."

The larger-than-life portraits of the late King Hussein of Jordan, and his eldest daughter, Princess Alia, were centrepieces of one of the artist's most important exhibitions in Amman in 1981, and come directly from the Royal family itself, having been in the private collection of Princess Alia for the past 30 years. 

Zeid's portraits present a personal insight into her relationship with the Jordanian Royal Family. Turkish-born Fahrelnissa Zeid (1900-1991) came from a distinguished Ottoman family, and had known King Hussein as a boy at Harrow School. The portrait was prompted by the occasion when the king had put his western clothes on one side and donned robes – which he wore rarely – as a mark of respect to welcome his cousin King Faisal of Saudi Arabia at the airport. Its depthless background and the modernist simple circle and stylized white folds of the robes complement the round jet-black iris and black shadows of the king's eyes, giving the king an iconic and timeless appearance.

The portrait of Princess Alia, the daughter of King Hussein, was commissioned by Princess Alia Al Hussein herself in 1982. Adila Laid-Hanieh, the biographer of Fahrelnissa Zeid, describes this painting as a "hybrid archetype, that of a maiden/goddess" wearing a green dress that represents fertility and holding a white flower as a symbol of youth.

Other highlights

Mahmoud Said (Egypt, 1897-1964) Portrait de ma Soeur (Zeinab Said) which achieved £75,000. This exquisite and significant 1919 portrait by the father of Egyptian 20th century art, depicts his beloved sister Zeinab, and is one of only a handful of works executed by the artist directly after 1918, when he had left the studio of Italian artist Arturo Zanieri.

Sohrab Sepehri, (Iran, 1928-1980) Untitled (from the abstract series) achieved £80,000.

The next sale of Modern & Contemporary Middle Eastern Art will be held on 18 April 2018


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