Turkish Artist Fahrelnissa Zeid’s Record Breaking Art

Princess Fahrelnissa Zeid (1901–1991) was one of the most influential female Turkish artists © Peyri Herrera / Flickr
Princess Fahrelnissa Zeid (1901–1991) was one of the most influential female Turkish artists © Peyri Herrera / Flickr
Photo of Johanna Gill
28 December 2016

Best known for her large-scale abstract paintings, Princess Fahrelnissa Zeid (1901–1991) was one of the most influential female Turkish artists. Trained in Paris, as well as in Istanbul, her abstract art has been described as a mixture of Islamic, Byzantine, Arab and Persian influences combined with stylistic elements that were developed in Europe during the post-war period. A collection of her paintings, previously unknown, was sold in Bonhams Indian and Islamic art sale on 2 October 2012 for a total of £2,021,838.

The collection of works by the Princess came to light when a former employee of the family unearthed a box that contained more than 150 sketches, drawings, canvases, notebooks and letters, given to him when the artist moved residence. Many of the works greatly exceeded their pre-sale estimates. The art sale created frenzied bidding in the room, on the telephone and over the internet and as a result there was a new world record achieved for works on paper by this artist. The collection was sold entirely and the highly charged sale saw prices eagerly shouted out to purchase the artist’s work, with an ink and watercolor on card selling at £26,000 on an estimate of £3,000-5,000. Works on canvas performed exceptionally, as well as paintings of Istanbul scenes; Emin Efendi Lokantasi sold for £217,000, Boats on the Bosphorus sold for £133,000, and a portrait of Queen Aliyeh of Jordan, Arabian Queen, sold for £127,000.

Oil paint on canvas by Fahrelnissa Zeid, 1950s | Courtesy of Tate

The collection of work, produced over many years, shows the development of Fahrelnissa Zeid from the 1940s up to the 1970s. Being one of the most important and influential abstract artists of the 20th century, her work was exhibited in Paris, Istanbul, London and Berlin. The artist was one of the first women to attend the Fine Arts Academy in Istanbul and later in Paris at the Academie Ranson. Her first one-woman show was held in Istanbul in 1944 and she then went on to participate in almost 50 exhibitions in Europe, USA and the Middle East. Another exhibition of Zeid’s figurative and abstract works will be held at the Tate Modern, starting in June 2017. Highlighting the tension in the works and the complex patterns and influences that have dominated her work, the exhibition shows dynamism, the desire to represent motion through painting and her obsession with geometrical details.

Exhibition at the Tate Modern: 7 June – 15 October 2017

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