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A new sales series from Sotheby’s aimed at promoting 20th century art will feature works from artists who were trailblazers in Egyptian modern art.
The inaugural 20th Century Art – A Different Perspective sale will be held tomorrow (November 12) in London, UK, and feature modern art from countries across Europe and around the Mediterranean by artists who have a strong regional following but are not yet part of the international mainstream
It will include a selection of three works by members of the Art et Liberté (Art and Freedom) movement in Egypt, featuring rare examples by Kamel El Telmissany and Ramses Younan, painted during a crucial chapter in the evolution of modern Egyptian art.
Sotheby’s spokesperson Mai Eldib says: “The sale of paintings by leading artists of the Art and Freedom Group is unprecedented since works by Younan and El Temissany have never before appeared at auction and this is the first time their works have been shown outside Egypt. There has been a resurgence of interest in these artists, who were also revered as intellectual figures at a seminal time in modern Egyptian history.
“This is an unmissable opportunity for collectors: the portrait by Younan is particularly rare, produced before he joined the Arts and Freedom Group, and the El Telmissany nude is an exceptional example from an extremely limited supply, as the artist created so few paintings before becoming a filmmaker.”
The Art and Freedom movement was founded in 1939 by Georges Henein, a thinker and writer, as a rebellion against the prevailing politics, art, and the intelligentsia. He penned the manifesto Long Live Degenerate Art, which was signed by 37 members including Younan and El Temissany. Published in French and Arabic, and widely distributed throughout Cairo and abroad, it stressed the importance of individualism and imagination as the greatest revolutionary force.
Both artists were participants in the first Art and Freedom show held in Soliman Pasha (today Midan Talaat Harb) in 1940. The exhibition marked a radical departure from the romanticism and idealised vision espoused by established Egyptian artists.
Mahmoud Said, one of the most influential Egyptian modern artists, lent his support to the show as guest of honour by including his only surrealist painting, The Woman with the Golden Locks. Younan and El Telmissany went on to contribute to the second, third and fourth Art and Freedom exhibitions, in 1941, 1943, and 1944.
Abstract by Younan (1913-1966) builds on the style the artist developed in Paris and marks the artist’s progression towards abstract expressionism and a truly contemporary idiom. Younan cemented his reputation in 1948 with his first solo show in Paris and in 1958 returned to Cairo where he was instrumental in introducing the concept of Abstraction to Egypt. Painted in 1964, this work is estimated at £8,000-12,000 ($12,674-19,012). The sale includes a further work by the artist, Portrait, painted between 1933 and 1938, before his move towards abstraction, and estimated at £10,000-15,000 ($15,483-23,765).
Nude by El Telmissany (1915-1972) is an extremely rare work by the artist to come to auction. El Telmissany’s art career spanned just 10 years; self-taught, he was enrolled in veterinary school and the study heavily influenced his output. As can be seen in this painting, his emphasis was on gore and harsh reality. Following the fourth show for the Art and Freedom group, El Telmissany abandoned art and pursued a career in filmmaking. Painted circa 1938-1942, Nude is estimated at £6,000-8,000 ($9,506-12,674).
Alongside these three works, the sale includes two modern Egyptian paintings.
Still Life with Fish by Seif Wanly (1906-1979), painted in 1960, demonstrates how the artist – born in Alexandria to an aristocratic Egyptian family – assimilated avant-garde techniques during several visits he made to Europe in the 1950s. Estimated at £10,000-15,000 ($15,483-23,765), it embodies elements of bold, Fauvist colour as well as the geometry of Cubism and Futurism. Wanly introduced modern pictorial trends to Egypt and radically broke with the folklorist style of his contemporaries.
Abdel Hadi El Gazzar (1925-1966) is considered the father of the Egyptian contemporary art movement, an artist who rejected the trope of defining Egyptian identity based on Western precepts. Consigned for sale from the family of the artist is an abstract untitled oil on paper, painted in 1958. The vivid green palette is a direct correlation with El Gazzar’s thoughts on mental and spiritual freedom. It is estimated at £15,000-20,000 ($15,483-23,765).
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