Masters of the Middle East: meet the region's top-selling artists

Published May 6th, 2015 - 05:51 GMT

A recent report by artnet news put total sales of Middle East-produced fine art at over $399 million USD since 2011. Set against total sales of European or North American artists, the number’s not exactly a masterpiece. (Consider that sale of a single piece - a 1969 triptych by British painter Francis Bacon - fetched $142.4 million at a Christie’s auction in 2013, making it the most expensive artwork ever sold at auction.)  But these figures do reveal a healthy market for regionally produced art, and a growing appetite for more; 2014 sales value was nearly eightfold what it was in 2004.

Who are the top artists in this market right now?  The analytics team at artnet scoured their Fine Art and Design Price Database, sifting through auction results from 2011 to the start of this year.

We pulled the top 16 and summarized their credentials for you.  Feast your eyes on some of the priciest products to come from the Middle East’s painters.

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Egyptian Queen Farida

Former judge Mahmoud Said (1897-1964), son of an Egyptian Prime Minister and uncle to Queen Farida, was a prolific painter. At age 50, he dedicated himself fully to his art which emphasized a 3-dimensional style and high contrast of light and shadow. His estate earned $6,217,099 from 19 sales. (artmarketmonitor.com)

Arabic calligraphy

Istanbul-born Erol Akyavaş (1932-1999) split his 40-year career between the US and Turkey. Trained as an architect, he often focused on the nature of space and time, mixing a Western painting style with Eastern imagery and calligraphy. Sale of 102 of his mostly large-scale pieces have earned $14,132,588. (OHABER.com)

Prophet Moḥammad

Two pieces by Persian Aqa Mirak (active circa 1520-1576) sold for a total of $12,224,757. A favorite of the Shah, he painted the interior of Prince Sam Mirza's palace in Tabriz and illustrated royal manuscripts. Mirak was a direct descendant of the Prophet Moḥammad (PBUH). (ataliakoptsevva.com)

Robert and Lisa Sainsbury

Istanbul-born Mubin Orhon (1924-1981) studied art in Paris, later returning for military service to Turkey where he continued to develop his abstract style. He was the darling of supermarket heirs Robert and Lisa Sainsbury - they collected 63 of his works. Sale of 166 pieces earned him $10,829,601. (istanbulmodern.org)

Princess Fahrelnissa Zeid

Princess Fahrelnissa Zeid (1901-1991) was the daughter of an Ottoman diplomat. She married into the Hashemite royal family of Iraq and gave birth to Prince Ra'ad, the present claimant to the Iraqi and Syrian thrones. Sale of 139 of her paintings, collages and stained glass panels earned $10,730,472. (wikiart.org)

Islamic art

Mehmed Melih Devrim Nejad (1923-1995) was a Turkish expressionist painter who arrived on the art scene in the early 1940s. His work abstracted traditional Arabic and Turkish calligraphy, Byzantine mosaics and Islamic art. To date, 232 of his artworks have sold for a total $8,656,767 (image of untitled from nilgunyuksel.net).

Turkish calligraphy

Istanbul-born Omer Uluc (1931-2010) studied engineering and painting in the US, he lived in England, Nigeria and Mexico before settling in Paris. Defiant and fantastical, his work features abstract figures and forms frequently inspired by traditional Turkish calligraphy. So far 129 of his works have fetched $7,800,223. (wikiart.org)

Pop Art

Paris-based Farhad Moshiri (1963 to date) was born in Iran. Inspired by Pop Art, he uses everyday objects as well as luxury trims like pearls and crystals for installations which look playful but are often darkly cynical. “Life is Beautiful” is made entirely of knives! He’s sold 45 pieces ringing up $7,753,485. (perrotin.com)

Ahmed Alsoudani

Baghdad-born, New York-based Ahmed Alsoudani (1975 to date) interprets contemporary global conflict. He paints violent gestures and brutalized figures, aiming to capture the psychological aspect of fear and violence. Sale of 20 paintings have brought in $5,740,259. (marlboroughchelsea.com)

Byzantine mosaics

Ferruh Başağa (1915-2010) was a pioneer of abstract painting in Turkey, best known for his trademark geometrical patterns, likely due to his background in mosaics and stained glass. At the time of his death at age 95, he was preparing projects for his 100th birthday. Sale of 82 artworks tallied $5,461,404. (karesanat.blogspot)

Napolean

Mihr ‘Ali (active circa 1795-1830) was the most notable portraitist of the Persian court during the reign of Fat'h Ali Shah Qajar, creating at least ten full-size oils of the Shah - one was sent to Napoleon! Two of his works have sold for a total of $5,294,369. (museums.artyx.ru)

Abstract art

Turkish abstract artist Adnan Coker (1927- to date) sees black not so much as a color but as space, with a sense of dimension. The color is integral to his works which focus on an exploration of tonal values and nature. Thus far 20 of his stark paintings have sold for a total sum of $5,046,939. (mackamodern.com)

Taksin Square protests

Turkish artist Mehmet Guleryuz (1927 to date) focuses on people and their sociopolitical surroundings. He’s also an actor, active in Paris in the 1970’s with his “happenings”. The 75-year old faced down a water cannon during the Taksim Square protests. About 73 of the his works have sold for a grand $4,763,311. (senseoftime.inenart.eu)

Kemal Onsoy

Istanbul-based Kemal Onsoy (1938 to date) experiments with mixed media using the figure and nature as his main sources of inspiration. He regularly exhibits in Turkey, Italy and Brazil. His work can be seen in Turkish museums and private collections. (Pinterest)

Persian poet Sohrab Sepehri

Iranian Sohrab Sepehri (1928-1980) is considered as one of the most famous Persian poets who practiced "New Poetry" (poems without rhyme or meter). He was also one of Iran's foremost modernist painters - 13 of his artworks have sold for a grand $4,544,797. His poems and paintings blended Western concepts with Eastern ones. (Christies.com)

Tel Aviv museum

Reuven Rubin (1893-1974) ranks first, with 203 artworks sold for $15,353,689. He painted the natural beauty of Palestine, later Israel, using flat forms and a folkloric style. The Tel Aviv museum that bears his name honors Israel’s most sought-after painter. (Sothebys.com)

Egyptian Queen Farida
Arabic calligraphy
Prophet Moḥammad
Robert and Lisa Sainsbury
Princess Fahrelnissa Zeid
 Islamic art
Turkish calligraphy
Pop Art
Ahmed Alsoudani
Byzantine mosaics
Napolean
Abstract art
Taksin Square protests
Kemal Onsoy
Persian poet Sohrab Sepehri
Tel Aviv museum
Egyptian Queen Farida
Former judge Mahmoud Said (1897-1964), son of an Egyptian Prime Minister and uncle to Queen Farida, was a prolific painter. At age 50, he dedicated himself fully to his art which emphasized a 3-dimensional style and high contrast of light and shadow. His estate earned $6,217,099 from 19 sales. (artmarketmonitor.com)
Arabic calligraphy
Istanbul-born Erol Akyavaş (1932-1999) split his 40-year career between the US and Turkey. Trained as an architect, he often focused on the nature of space and time, mixing a Western painting style with Eastern imagery and calligraphy. Sale of 102 of his mostly large-scale pieces have earned $14,132,588. (OHABER.com)
Prophet Moḥammad
Two pieces by Persian Aqa Mirak (active circa 1520-1576) sold for a total of $12,224,757. A favorite of the Shah, he painted the interior of Prince Sam Mirza's palace in Tabriz and illustrated royal manuscripts. Mirak was a direct descendant of the Prophet Moḥammad (PBUH). (ataliakoptsevva.com)
Robert and Lisa Sainsbury
Istanbul-born Mubin Orhon (1924-1981) studied art in Paris, later returning for military service to Turkey where he continued to develop his abstract style. He was the darling of supermarket heirs Robert and Lisa Sainsbury - they collected 63 of his works. Sale of 166 pieces earned him $10,829,601. (istanbulmodern.org)
Princess Fahrelnissa Zeid
Princess Fahrelnissa Zeid (1901-1991) was the daughter of an Ottoman diplomat. She married into the Hashemite royal family of Iraq and gave birth to Prince Ra'ad, the present claimant to the Iraqi and Syrian thrones. Sale of 139 of her paintings, collages and stained glass panels earned $10,730,472. (wikiart.org)
 Islamic art
Mehmed Melih Devrim Nejad (1923-1995) was a Turkish expressionist painter who arrived on the art scene in the early 1940s. His work abstracted traditional Arabic and Turkish calligraphy, Byzantine mosaics and Islamic art. To date, 232 of his artworks have sold for a total $8,656,767 (image of untitled from nilgunyuksel.net).
Turkish calligraphy
Istanbul-born Omer Uluc (1931-2010) studied engineering and painting in the US, he lived in England, Nigeria and Mexico before settling in Paris. Defiant and fantastical, his work features abstract figures and forms frequently inspired by traditional Turkish calligraphy. So far 129 of his works have fetched $7,800,223. (wikiart.org)
Pop Art
Paris-based Farhad Moshiri (1963 to date) was born in Iran. Inspired by Pop Art, he uses everyday objects as well as luxury trims like pearls and crystals for installations which look playful but are often darkly cynical. “Life is Beautiful” is made entirely of knives! He’s sold 45 pieces ringing up $7,753,485. (perrotin.com)
Ahmed Alsoudani
Baghdad-born, New York-based Ahmed Alsoudani (1975 to date) interprets contemporary global conflict. He paints violent gestures and brutalized figures, aiming to capture the psychological aspect of fear and violence. Sale of 20 paintings have brought in $5,740,259. (marlboroughchelsea.com)
Byzantine mosaics
Ferruh Başağa (1915-2010) was a pioneer of abstract painting in Turkey, best known for his trademark geometrical patterns, likely due to his background in mosaics and stained glass. At the time of his death at age 95, he was preparing projects for his 100th birthday. Sale of 82 artworks tallied $5,461,404. (karesanat.blogspot)
Napolean
Mihr ‘Ali (active circa 1795-1830) was the most notable portraitist of the Persian court during the reign of Fat'h Ali Shah Qajar, creating at least ten full-size oils of the Shah - one was sent to Napoleon! Two of his works have sold for a total of $5,294,369. (museums.artyx.ru)
Abstract art
Turkish abstract artist Adnan Coker (1927- to date) sees black not so much as a color but as space, with a sense of dimension. The color is integral to his works which focus on an exploration of tonal values and nature. Thus far 20 of his stark paintings have sold for a total sum of $5,046,939. (mackamodern.com)
Taksin Square protests
Turkish artist Mehmet Guleryuz (1927 to date) focuses on people and their sociopolitical surroundings. He’s also an actor, active in Paris in the 1970’s with his “happenings”. The 75-year old faced down a water cannon during the Taksim Square protests. About 73 of the his works have sold for a grand $4,763,311. (senseoftime.inenart.eu)
Kemal Onsoy
Istanbul-based Kemal Onsoy (1938 to date) experiments with mixed media using the figure and nature as his main sources of inspiration. He regularly exhibits in Turkey, Italy and Brazil. His work can be seen in Turkish museums and private collections. (Pinterest)
Persian poet Sohrab Sepehri
Iranian Sohrab Sepehri (1928-1980) is considered as one of the most famous Persian poets who practiced "New Poetry" (poems without rhyme or meter). He was also one of Iran's foremost modernist painters - 13 of his artworks have sold for a grand $4,544,797. His poems and paintings blended Western concepts with Eastern ones. (Christies.com)
Tel Aviv museum
Reuven Rubin (1893-1974) ranks first, with 203 artworks sold for $15,353,689. He painted the natural beauty of Palestine, later Israel, using flat forms and a folkloric style. The Tel Aviv museum that bears his name honors Israel’s most sought-after painter. (Sothebys.com)