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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 14 November 2018

Abraaj art fire sale raises Dh21.3 million at London auctions

Everything under the hammer sells at triple auction in London

A fire sale of 200 works of art from the stricken Abraaj Group has raised £4.5 million (Dh21.3m) after two days of London auctions to claw back money for investors in the collapsed private equity firm.

The Dubai-based company built the collection in the early 2000s when the art market was at its peak before the financial crash. The works included Arab, Iranian and South Asian paintings and sculptures.

The corporate art collection was put up for sale by liquidators who are seeking to settle debts of some £775 million owed by Abraaj, which collapsed this year. The liquidators were called in following allegations of misuse of investors’ funds.

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The highest price secured on Wednesday was the £477,000 (Dh2.3 million) for a painting by Indian artist Manjit Bawa, featuring a seated woman in traditional Punjabi costume surrounded by dogs.

Indian artist's Manjit Bawa's work secured the highest price of any item from the Abraaj collection. Ben Stevens / i-Images
Indian artist's Manjit Bawa's work secured the highest price of any item from the Abraaj collection. Ben Stevens / i-Images

The anonymous buyer was from India, said London auction house Bonhams which conducted three consecutive sales on Tuesday and Wednesday. It will hold a further online sale next month.

The work painting was sold for three times the price it last secured at auction 12 years ago, according to auction house records. Most of the paintings at Bonhams were offered for sale without reserve prices to ensure their sale.

Some of the sales were markedly down from the prices paid a decade ago and symbolised the dramatic fall of a company that sponsored the Art Dubai fair for a decade.

The Iranian artist Mohammed Ehsai's 2007 work 'He is Merciful'. 
The Iranian artist Mohammed Ehsai's 2007 work 'He is Merciful'. 

He is Merciful, a calligraphic work by Iranian artist Mohammad Ehsai sold for £320,750 (Dh1.5 million) but made more than double that price in Dubai in 2008. Prices for Iranian works have been hit by ongoing diplomatic crisis and international sanctions which have depressed sales.

The sale nonetheless attracted brisk bidding with seven or eight potential buyers vying for each item in the Modern and Contemporary South Asian Art auction, said Bonhams officials.

“It was a great honour to offer this wonderful collection for sale and we are delighted at the results,” said Nima Sagharchi, Bonhams director of Middle Eastern, Islamic and South Asian art.

“The Abraaj Collection was well known for its exceptional quality and I am not surprised that collectors took the opportunity to purchase works with such distinguished provenance.”

Auction house Christie’s were selling ten works on Wednesday that were listed as the part of the private collection of the Abraaj chairman Arif Naqvi in 2015, according to the international art magazine, Apollo.

The sales were offered as “property from a distinguished private collection,” it said. The auction house was also reportedly selling other key items from the collection to key clients. Christie’s declined to comment “due to client confidentiality”.

The Abraaj Investment Group was selling Paul Guiragossian's 'Celebrations'. 
The Abraaj Investment Group was selling Paul Guiragossian's 'Celebrations'. 

Sales at Bonhams included £175,000 for Lebanese artist Paul Guiragossian’s ‘Celebrations’ which was painted in 1990 towards the end of war in Lebanon.

“Some were not able to produce and art during the war, but I was painting without stop,” said the artist who died in 1993. “My war was my painting, my revenge was my colours.”

Arif Naqvi, Founder and Group Chief Executive of Abraaj Group at Davos in 2017. Reuters
Arif Naqvi, Founder and Group Chief Executive of Abraaj Group at Davos in 2017. Reuters

The top prices were for works by Indian artists including Girl by Francis Souza which sold for £429,000 and Beej by Syed Haider Raza which sold for £345,000.

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