Ramsès Younan (Egyptian, 1913-1966)
The lot was imported into the UAE for sale and is … Read more PROPERTY FROM THE COLLECTION OF THE FAMILY OF THE LATE RAMSÈS YOUNAN
Ramsès Younan (Egyptian, 1913-1966)

Contre le mur

Ramsès Younan (Egyptian, 1913-1966)
Contre le mur
signed with initials ‘RY’ (lower right); signed with initials ‘RY’ (on the reverse); signed ‘Ramsès YOUNAN’ (on the stretcher)
oil on canvas

14 1/2 x 18 2/3 in. (37 x 47.4 cm.)
Painted in 1944
The Artist’s Estate.
S. Bardaouil & T. Fellrath (eds.), Art et Liberté, Paris, 2016 (illustrated in colour, p. 176-177).
Paris, Centre national d’art et de culture Georges Pompidou;
Madrid, Museo Nacional de Arte Reina Sofia;
Düsseldorf, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein- Westfalen;
Liverpool, Tate Liverpool;
Stockholm, Moderna Museet, Surrealism in Egypt: Art et Liberté 1938-1948, October 2016-August 2018 (illustrated in colour, p. 176-177).
Special notice
The lot was imported into the UAE for sale and is held in a Designated Zone. VAT at 5% will be added to the buyer’s premium and will be shown separately on our invoice. If the lot is released into GCC/UAE free circulation, import duty at 5% and import VAT at 5% will be payable on the hammer price by you at the Designated Zone before collection of the lot.
Further details
This work will be included in the forthcoming monograph on Ramsès Younan, by Sonia Younan and Boris Younan, edited by Zamân Books to be published in October 2019.

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Michael Jeha
Michael Jeha

Lot Essay

I cling onto my madness with the smallest hope to conquer the world and to destroy the emptiness. I do not want ‘friends’ but rather accomplices involved in the same crime: pierce through emptiness, rape emptiness’. Edouard Jaguer quoting Ramses Younan in Dictionnaire général du surréalisme et de ses environs (1982).

Christie’s is offering four works by Ramsès Younan, a leading figure and founding member of the ‘Art and Freedom’ society, noted as a painter, essayist, critic and translator, whose motto ‘Long Live Degenerate Art’ was defined in their groundbreaking manifesto in 1938. Very rare to find Younan’s works from his Surrealist days, these works depict both his Surrealist period and beginnings towards abstraction after the Art and Freedom’s group exhibition was launched in 1940. Depicted with strange colours and jagged and amorphous forms, only a handful of paintings from Younan’s Surrealist days are known, some of which are housed in the Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris, and the Museum of Modern Art Cairo. Two of these works have been exhibited in the pivotal exhibition Surrealism in Egypt: Art er Liberté 1938-1948 traveling across museums in Paris, Madrid, Dusseldorf, Liverpool and Stockholm highlighting the importance of Egyptian Surrealism within the global and local spheres.

These works were painted at a time wrought with war and terror brought upon by totalitarian regimes, after World War II raged through Europe, and an intensifying militant nationalism existed within Egypt; it was also during a time artistically when artists debated how currents of Surrealism were to be incorporated within the local Cairo scene. Egyptian Surrealism emerged in the late 1930s in opposition to the rise of fascism and nationalism in Europe, along with British colonial rule and Cairo’s conservative artistic scene. In 1941, there were 140,000 soldiers in Cairo, causing a surge in prostitution, urging artists to depict these emaciated bodies devoid of eroticism, in a completely devastated isolation. On top of this, the majority of wealth was held by a small percentage of feudal landowners and business magnates while more than half the population of rural laborors and urban works suffered from poverty. Art and Freedom members included those such as Anwar and Fouad Kamel, Kamel El-Telmissany and Georges Henein, shaping their unique identity within the Egyptian scene and staging five ground breaking exhibitions in Cairo between 1940 and 1945.

Shocking the public in a ‘degenerate’ way, Younan portrays his work, most specifically in the gruesome figures of woman, as a way to shock the public, opening their eyes into the larger movements at play, namely the de-humanisation of people, and the will to reverse oneself from the shackles of tradition, politics and conscience. Coining the term ‘subjective realism,’ Ramsès Younan considered collective empowerment through art making, both globally engaged but entirely rooted within the local concerns, incorporating recognizable symbols within his works that dealt with social inequality and economic exploitation. Considering Surrealist painters like Dali and Magritte too premeditated, Younan advocated for fusing local imagery with the unconscious, producing very eclectic works. In 1943 he assumed the role of editor of El Magella el Jedida (‘The New Review’), an Egyptian revolutionary and artistic publication. Depiction of crude bodies and abstracted dream sequences were portrayed. Dismembered, and distorted both in his figurative and abstract works, these compositions invoke the state’s tortuous oppression of its people and the working class, becoming a completely radical and controversial form, and the eventual opening one’s mind to developing a distinct language traversing into the subconscious.

Contre le Mur stands out as a unique and important Surrealist work of the artist, quite rare in his oeuvre for its juxtaposition between objects and figures, surpassing other artist’s subtle works in that it is quite crude in appearance, providing a disturbing, yet powerful message to the viewer. Younan depicted these women crucified by this injustice, only to be eradicated if poverty was eliminated. Lying helpless on the floor in a contorted form, her bodily features are accentuated and disproportionate in her knees, shoulders and nose. This scene is hardly inviting, painted within a De Chirico-esque landscape, with its desolate and emptiness, save for a lonely chair in the background and a chip in the wall, further invoking the poverty inflicted within the region.

The abstract works on paper represent a shift in the artist’s style beginning in 1945, right before moving to Paris for eleven years, where he would begin his tendency towards structural abstraction. His exploration into the abstract is showcased in his first show in Paris in 1948, only to becoming completely abstract upon his return to Cairo from Paris in 1957 following his dismissal from the French Broadcasting service, noted again in his 1958 show Toward the Unknown. These works during the mid to late 1940s however occupy a sense of figuration despite their more gestural autonomous form. This transition into the abstract, points to his diverse oeuvre, his innovative style becoming a modus operandi for his compositions, against preconceived notions of national tradition. The coloristic quality of these works depicted in somber ochres, pinks, blacks, and mauve accentuate these contrasts along with altering lines in thick, and gestural application further showcase an intellectual torn between two worlds, that of the figurative and abstract. Towards the end of his life, his dream series works were the hiatus of his later period, characterized by their softer flowing and hatched perpendiculars and horizontals, bleeding within the canvas.

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