Sotheby's achieved strong results of £33.5 million for its sale of the Najd Collection, the stunning examples of Orientalism that are finally coming on to market. Equally impressive was its sell-through rate, of 90 per cent.
The sale in London on Tuesday, October 22, was of 40 works from the collection, which comprises more than 100 works. A majority of the paintings went above estimate, with Sotheby's counting nine auction records for the artists.
The Najd Collection was assembled in the 1970s and 1980s – long before prices climbed with renewed interest in the period from the 2000s – and would be almost impossible to put together today.
Its owner has been kept secret but it was revealed last week by Colin Gleadell at the Telegraph to be the Saudi billionaire Nasser Al Rashid, who put it together with the help of the London gallerist Brian MacDermot.
The paintings, by travelling Europeans and Americans, show every day and imagined scenes of Oriental splendor. Most of the paintings were under the £1 million mark, but a few of the most complex and monumental paintings soared higher: Gustav Bauernfeind's Market in Jaffa went for £3.7 million (all hammer price), while Ludwig Deutsch's The Tribute went well above its £1.5 million low estimate to achieve £4.3 million, which doubles the artist's auction record.
Deutsch is considered one of the most important Orientalist painters; the work of Jean-Leon Gerome, another of the key figures, also achieved its own auction record, with Riders Crossing the Desert selling for £3.1 million.
The top lot was the painting Koranic Instruction by Osman Hamdy Bey, whose work of a young scholar is a stand-out at Louvre Abu Dhabi. It sold for £4.6 million.
Sotheby's also held its 20th Century Middle East sale, where most of the work found buyers but few went above expectations. It made £2.5 million with a sell-through rate of 70 per cent.
Women did well. A watercolour by Etel Adnan from the 1970s went for £30,000 — above its low estimate of £7,000. A dodecahedron sculpture by the young Saudi-Palestinian artist Dana Awartani achieved an auction-house record of £23,750, and a beautiful Saloua Rouada Choucair abstract painting, Rhythmic Composition, for 1949 — of the type that is getting harder to find — went for £42,500.
Other works stayed smack-dab in the middle of sensible expectations. An delightful acrylic of a bulbous and classical reclining nude by the Dubai artist Rokni Haerizadeh achieved £10,625, and a Nympheas-like abstraction by Fahrelnissa Zeid, Untitled (Green Abstract), sold for £93,750.
Top lots were Mahmoud Said's After the Rain (1936), depicting a traditional Egyptian house as storm clouds move away, which achieved £519,000, and an early painting by the Iraqi modernist Shakir Hassan Al-Said, Corpse and Two Birds (1953), that is markedly colourful and abstract.
Sotheby's also had a focus on Armenian works, with paintings by Paul Guiragossian, Ardash Kakafian, and Sonia Balassanian, and others. The market for these proved trickier: only one of three Guiragossian paintings, which are regulars at auction, sold (Fable, 1967, for a respectable £43,750). Others in the Armenian sale failed to move or went within their estimates.