'Magical and inspirational' art auction at Sotheby’s in Dubai pays homage to Beirut

Exhibition and sale is dedicated to artists from and inspired by Lebanon's capital

Maisons a Aitanit by Mahmoud Said (1951) will be auctioned for the very first time at Sotheby's A Love Letter to Beirut sale. Photo: Sotheby's
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A selection of works by Arab artists, set to go on show at Sotheby’s in Dubai this month, has been described as “magical and inspirational” for transcending the political complexities of Lebanon.

They form part of a forthcoming sale in the UK entitled A Love Letter to Beirut. The greater collection of work showcasing Lebanon’s cultural heritage and its influence on Arab artists will go up for auction on April 23 in London.

The exhibition and sale brings together varying works, from figurative to abstract paintings and sculpture, by Lebanese and Arab artists who have been influenced or inspired by Beirut.

“Art seems to have transcended the complex politics of the country and radiated beyond its borders to an international level,” Alexandra Roy, Sotheby’s head of sale, modern and contemporary Middle East told The National. “The Middle East, in general, has also gone through a lot. This shows us that art transcends politics in many ways. I think that's magical and inspirational.”

The works to be showcased in Dubai will be open to the public in DIFC from February 26 to March 1. The exhibition will celebrate nearly 30 Lebanese creatives, including Lebanese-American artist and poet Etel Adnan, New York based Lebanese painter Nabil Nahas, Lebanese-American master painter Saliba Douaihy and the Armenian Lebanese painter Paul Guiragossian.

“People will be surprised by some of the artists we have and will forge some interesting connections between them,” added Roy. “There will also be a chance to discover new artists.”

An untitled 1972 painting by Aref El Rayess is one of the highlights. The work, which will be up for auction for the first time, was part of the first Baghdad Biennale in 1974.

Rayess was an important and influential artist across the region. He a founding member of Lebanese University's department of fine arts. As a painter, his multi-disciplinary approach had a distinct style, influenced by his travels across West Africa, and incorporated motifs of folklore and mysticism.

Rayess is one of the artists who ensured that Beirut continued to function as a creative centre from the beginning of mid-century modernism in the 1960s to the present day.

“Following Lebanon's independence in 1943, Beirut welcomed a lot of artists from around the region and it really began to flourish,” explained Roy. “It is interesting to see how creativity in the city continued throughout the 1970s and the 1990s civil war.”

Also showcased as part of the exhibition will be works Jordanian sculptor Mona Saudi and the Egyptian modern master painter Mahmoud Said, whose 1951 painting Maisons a Aitanit will be auctioned for the first time. It is a depiction of Aitanit, a lakeside village in southern Lebanon that he frequently visited in the 1950s.

Roy added: “We have a very vibrant sale. This eclecticism has a lot to do with the varying experiences that the artists included had throughout their lifetimes – their preoccupations, travels and influences.”

A Love Letter to Beirut will be running in Sotheby’s DIFC from February 26 to March 1.

Updated: February 19, 2024, 9:30 AM