Jewad Selim (Iraqi, 1921-1961)
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Jewad Selim (Iraqi, 1921-1961)

Back Gardens - Camden Town

Jewad Selim (Iraqi, 1921-1961)
Back Gardens - Camden Town
signed and dated 'JEWAD SELIM 1947' (lower right)
oil on board
21 5/8 x 15¾in. (55 x 40cm.)
Painted in 1947
Dr. Norman Daniel Collection, Baghdad (acquired in 1951).
Private Collection, USA.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
London, Walton House, First Exhibition of Paintings and Sculpture by Iraqi Artists at present in England, April-May 1949, no. 33.
Baghdad, Mr Nizat and Ellen Ali Jawdat's house, Jewad Selim, 1950, no. 45.
Baghdad, British Institute, Paintings of Britain by Iraqi Artists, 1951.
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Lot Essay

Jewad Selim benefited from an eclectic education, as he studied in both Paris and Rome (1938-1940) then studied at the Slade School of Art in London (1946-1949). Back Garden, Camden Town was painted during this time in London, where he also produced most of his transient depictions of realistic scenes, later moving towards exploring his Iraqi folkloric roots.

The title suggests Selim's fascination with the city and namely his new education about its groups. One which is very relevant to this work is the Camden Town Group, a Post-Impressionist art group active in 1911-1913 who gathered to paint and discuss art and poetry in Walter Sickert's studio in Camden Town. Selim was perhaps paying tribute to this older group, as he was now residing in this part of the city.

This exquisite masterpiece shows the view from the studio that Selim rented with his fellow Iraqi artists whilst studying in London. His window offered very interesting angles that gave him every opportunity to explore the tiny variations in colour and light which fascinated him, an example of which is illustrated in the well-studied composition of the buildings in the background of the painting. One feels that he spent a meticulous time planning the juxtaposition of these houses, windows, doors and rooftops then freed himself with the luminous work on the foreground branches painted with an irregular course of motion softening the hard and angular edges of the back scene, catching the minimal sunlight in a London street scene. As the title suggests, he looked at the garden but painted two worlds: the garden and the urban scene. His use of a vivid palette of warm and subtle colours is reminiscent of the various pre-war and post-war modern art movements developing in Europe. Some of his favorite icons whilst travelling in Europe were Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Henry Moore.

Selim's time in Europe, namely in London at the end of the 1940s served as a strong base that enabled him to pursue his short but very prolific career back in Baghdad and contributed to establishing the Baghdad Group for Modern Art in 1951.

Many key figures of the modern Iraqi art and literature scene were followers of this newly founded group, such as the artists Shakir Hassan Al-Said and Dia Al-Azzawi, as well as one of the Arab world's foremost art critic and writer, Jabra Ibrahim Jabra. The latter, a Palestinian novelist, wrote regularly on Jewad Selim's modernist view and later published the artist's biography in 1974, in Baghdad.

Although Jewad Selim passed away prematurely in his early forties, he remained one of the very few Arab artists who acquired such a wide knowledge of modern Western Art. He responded in his own personal way and encouraged his fellow Iraqi artists to do the same, yet always making sure that their artworks simultaneously showcased their own cultural identity

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