Said’s depiction of Adam and Eve made its auction debut on April 24, selling to an anonymous buyer for £520,000 against a £300,000-500,000 estimate. That set the highest price achieved for a nude painting by the artist.
The 2ft 7in x 22in (79 x 56cm) oil on panel, showing two imposing figures within a lush desert oasis, was a daring work when it was painted in 1937 and is one of only three pieces that explore a couple’s relationship in Said’s entire oeuvre.
‘Self-portrait’ in prison
An auction record was also achieved for Egyptian painter and feminist activist Inji Efflatoun (1924-89). Her 1962 portrait of a detainee, dating to her period of imprisonment and likely to be a self-portrait, more than doubled its top estimate to sell for £55,000.
An early indicator to the strength of Egyptian bidding came a week before in the April 18 sale of Middle Eastern art at Bonhams New Bond Street (25/20/12% buyer’s premium). The saleroom used the 110th anniversary of the founding of the Cairo Faculty of Fine Arts to offer a selection of distinguished examples by some of Egypt’s most radical and pioneering modernists. The group claimed nine of the top 10 lots, including three record prices.
Another high was set for Said, this time for a portrait by the artist. After a four-way bidding battle, Fille à l’imprimé realised £420,000 against a ‘refer to department’ estimate. The painting, from 1938, had never been offered at auction before. Bonhams billed it as Said’s “most iconic portrait, and a defining work in the history of Egyptian 20th century art”.
Surrealist Woman, a 2ft x 20in (63 x 52cm) oil on panel from 1943 by Egyptian painter Fouad Kamel (1919-99), soared above its £20,000-30,000 guide to sell for £175,000.
The price is an artist record, beating the premium-inclusive £43,750 paid at Sotheby’s London last year for an abstract oil from 1938.
Kamel was a leading figure in the Egyptian Surrealist movement and a founder member of Art et Liberté in the late 1930s, which campaigned against Fascist and Nazi artistic suppression.
Egyptian art was the high point in an otherwise patchy sale at Bonhams. More than half the lots from Iraq, Iran and Syria failed to find buyers, contributing to a low selling rate of 52%.