Abdul Qader Al Rais: Who is the artist behind the painting hanging in Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed's office?

The pioneering Emirati artist reveals that the work was first shown at Abu Dhabi's Cultural Foundation in 1989

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It serves as the backdrop to numerous meetings and video conferences in the government office of Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. It's an oil painting on linen of a wistful landscape reminiscent of the UAE’s past, dotted with date palms and a historical structure in the distance.

When I started painting, I was trying to renew the old things in my country

But what is the story behind this artwork and who made it?

The piece, entitled Qasr Al Hosn, is by pioneering Emirati artist Abdul Qader Al Rais, whose remarkable creations in his 50-year career include paintings that celebrate the landscapes and architecture of the UAE. The work depicts Qasr Al Hosn, a historical landmark in Abu Dhabi that formerly served as a fort.

Al Rais recently shared a photo on Instagram of Sheikh Mohamed sitting in front of it. The caption in Arabic states: “Thank you for Bou Khalid for relieving us from our burdens. May Allah keep you safe.”

The artist, who was born in Dubai, expressed his joy to see his work displayed inside the UAE leader's government office. "It makes me so happy to see my work in these places," he tells The National, adding that his painting of the Emirates Palace is also part of Sheikh Mohamed's collection.

The two met for the first time during the reopening of Abu Dhabi's Cultural Foundation last year. Speaking of Sheikh Mohamed, Al Rais says: "He's not only a good leader. You feel that he is a brother… that he is our family."

The painting dates back to 1989 and was shown at the artist's first solo exhibition in Abu Dhabi, which was held at the Cultural Foundation. It was Sheikha Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan, the founder of an eponymous art foundation and the wife of Sheikh Mohamed, who purchased the painting from Al Rais.“It was a big support for me as an artist,” he says.

The work is characteristic of the artist’s style from that period, which featured delicate brushstrokes and bright, pastel colours. He says it was made to highlight the UAE’s history and cultural values. “When I started painting, I was trying to renew the old things in my country, and one of the most important places is Qasr Al Hosn,” he explains. In his later works, he moved towards abstraction and incorporated geometric forms into his canvasses.

Al Rais is not only celebrated in his home country; he has also been recognised for his talents around the world. In 2018, the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris, France hosted a retrospective, entitled Al Intithar (The Wait), featuring 50 of his works spanning the late 1960s to the 2010s.

So what is the artist, 69, working on now? Al Rais revealed he has been busy producing a new watercolour work while observing a period of self-isolation. He says the work responds to the current coronavirus pandemic and hopes to share it with the public soon.