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10 December 2023

Bonhams sale to boost fine art market in Dubai

By Staff Writer




International auction house Bonhams will hold its first Middle East sale in Dubai in March, with more than 100 paintings going under the hammer.

The company opened an office in the emirate in November – and executives believe the UAE has the potential to become a world player in the fine art market.

“The UAE is definitely destined to become one of the world’s leading art markets, which is why we’re here,” said Matthew Girling, Bonhams’ European and Middle East Chief Executive. “We’ve studied the market intensely before entering the region and believe we have something special to add.”

Dubai has a number of galleries specialising in regional art and last year hosted its first Gulf Art Fair – now renamed Art Dubai – which featured a collection of international contemporary art for sale. But the broadest strokes on the UAE’s arts canvas to date have been made by Abu Dhabi, which last year announced it was to open branches of the Guggenheim Museum and Paris’s Louvre.

Bonhams – founded in the United Kingdom in the late 18th century – had worldwide gross sales of $500 million (Dh1.8 billion) in 2006 and is number three in the global market.

The auction will feature some of the biggest names in modern and contemporary Arab, Iranian, Indian and Pakistani art. There will be works by India’s Francis Newton Souza, Syria’s Louay Kayyali and Iran’s Nasser Ovissi as well as fine jewellery and watches.

The total value of the art up for sale has not yet been calculated – only half has so far arrived in Dubai – but it is expected to run into tens of millions of dirhams.

Claire Penhallurick, Bonhams’ Director of Islamic and Indian Art, said: “We have a good reputation in sales of Indian and Pakistani art in London, where we recently achieved a world-record of £602,400 (Dh4,375m) for the auction of a historic painting by Raja Ravi Varma.
“We are expecting a positive response to our first auction in the region. It’s early days for the local art scene and it is difficult to predict the potential of the market. But the opportunity for development is vast.

“We’ve noticed a worldwide trend in emerging markets that have booming economies, with first-time collectors wishing to purchase contemporary art from their own regions. We won’t be surprised if this becomes a rising trend here in the UAE with local buyers’ interest in contemporary Islamic and Arab art becoming a key growth market.”

Bonhams Dubai is a joint venture with the locally based Al Tajir family. The auction house is following in the footsteps of its two great international rivals, Christie’s and Sotheby’s. In May 2006, Christie’s held a sale in Dubai, which raised more than Dh31m. It has since staged two further auctions which fetched Dh79m. Last October, Sotheby’s held a jewellery exhibition in Dubai where an 84-carat diamond was sold for Dh58.7m.

Bonhams’ auction at the One and Only Royal Mirage ballroom will begin with open viewings on February 29 and March 1, with the sale taking place from March 2 to 4.

Under the hammer

Francis Newton Souza, founder of India’s Progressive Artists’ Movement in 1947, augments his canvases with prose. His 1955 work The Elder – with an estimated value of Dh881,447 to Dh1.1 million – will be a highlight of the Bonhams Dubai auction.

Syrian artist Louay Kayyali will be represented by a 93cm x 73.5cm oil on canvas titled The Lottery Boy or Seller of Yanaseeb, with an estimate of Dh183,631 to Dh257,082.

Also on offer will be Iranian artist Nasser Ovissi’s The Dream, with an estimate of Dh91,000 to Dh128,500. Ovissi’s works can be seen in private and public collections across Europe, Asia and the United States.