Object lessons

Object Lessons: From a Persian shah's portrait to a popsicle stick 'painting'

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Our picks from upcoming fairs and auctions in the next fortnight

Mahmoud Mokhtar, Three Beggars (1929-30)
Mahmoud Mokhtar, Three Beggars (1929-30). 20th Century Art/Middle East, Sotheby’s London, 30 April. Estimate £80,000-£120,000. Photo courtesy of Sotheby's

Measuring around a foot high, this sculpture by the Egyptian Modernist Mahmoud Mokhtar is one of two known examples—the other resides in Cairo’s Mokhtar Museum. Mokhtar’s portrayals of poor Egyptians became a potent nationalist symbol for Egypt’s struggle for independence in the 1920s. Quite different from his large and smooth marble depictions of peasant women, the rugged bronze shows three men in long cloaks, echoing Rodin’s The Three Shades. Mokhtar gave this work to his tutor, the French sculptor Jules-Félix Coutan, in 1930 and this is its first time at auction.

Peter Blake, Ways of Making (2019)
Peter Blake, Ways of Making (2019). London Original Print Fair, London, 25-28 April. From £600 upwards. Photo courtesy of the London Original Print Fair

When Peter Blake visited an art school recently, he was shocked to see students all working at computers. “Nobody was drawing or painting,” he says. It sparked a new project, Ways of Making, a collaboration between the British artist and Worton Hall Studios with the aim of, in Blake’s words, “covering all the different ways of working in an age where some of them are dying out”. For the project, Blake will recreate the same image in every known medium: over 50 processes from lithographs and etching to sculpture and 3D printing. The original image, a photograph of primroses in a bowl, is inspired by a line from Dylan Thomas’s “Under Milk Wood”—”From a finger bowl, a primrose grew.” The fruits of this exploration of edition making in all its forms will be unveiled at the London Original Print Fair.

Lynda Benglis, Blue Pair (1972)
Lynda Benglis, Blue Pair (1972). The Robert and Ruth Vogele Collection, Wright, New York, 25 April. Estimate $7,000-$9,000. Photo courtesy of Wright

This early work belongs to a series of sculptural wax “paintings” resembling popsicle sticks that Lynda Benglis created starting in the 1960s, when she first began experimenting with mediums aside from her typical photography, sculpture and video. The Vogeles bought this work, in beeswax with damar resin and gesso on Masonite, directly from Benglis and the last time it was shown publicly was in the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago’s landmark group exhibition Three Dimensional Paintings in 1980. A similar piece made in the same year is in the Tate’s collection and Christie’s New York sold a set of two comparable pieces in 2005 for $38,000, tripling its high estimate of $8,000.

Portrait of Fath-Ali Shah Qajar (late 18th century)
Portrait of Fath-Ali Shah Qajar (late 18th century). Islamic and Indian Art, Bonhams London, 30 April. Estimate £500,000. Photo courtesy of Bonhams

The 19th-century Persian ruler Fath-Ali Shah was, apparently, more of a lover than a fighter, fathering over 260 sons to make up for a lack of military prowess. In an attempt to fend off the encroaching East India Company forces, the shah projected his imperial might through art, cultivating the image of an imposing, heavily bejewelled king. Only 18 documented portraits of the shah exist and Oliver White, the head of Bonham’s Indian and Islamic department, says that the estimate for this one, flaunting the shah’s famously waspish waist, is in line with prices for similar ones sold by Sotheby’s and Christie’s.

Appeared in The Art Newspaper, 311 April 2019