Tahia Halim (Egyptian, 1919-2003)
Tahia Halim (Egyptian, 1919-2003)

Farhat Al Nuba (The Happiness of Nubia)

Tahia Halim (Egyptian, 1919-2003)
Farhat Al Nuba (The Happiness of Nubia)
signed and dated 'T. Halim 1965' (lower right); titled and inscribed in Arabic (on the reverse)
oil and gold leaf on canvas
51 1/8 x 99in. (130 x 251.5cm.)
Painted in 1965
Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner circa late 1960s.
S. Al Sharouny, Tahia Halim - Mythical Realism, Cairo 1999, no. 142/64 (illustrated in colour, pp. 66-67).
Stockholm, Strandvägen 47, Modern konst I hemmiljö, 1966.
Sale room notice
Please note that the correct medium of the present work is oil and gold leaf on canvas and not as stated in the catalogue.

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Lot Essay

Christie's is honoured to feature in this season's auction what is arguably one of Tahia Halim's most impressive masterpieces, through its subject matter, execution, colours and monumental size. Dr. Sobhy Al-Sharouny titled it Nubia's Jubilation over President Gamal Abdel Nasser, yet is has also been referred to as The Happiness of Nubia in a letter from the owner to Tahia Halim, dated 4th August 1983, with which he had enclosed 'four slides of your beautiful painting "The Happiness of Nubia", which is hanging in our boardroom'. The work was purchased in the mid-1960s, most likely directly from the artist, by the original owner, Mr. Lennart Bratt, during a holiday in Egypt with his wife Elsa. He described it as a painting that portrayed 'Nubians showing their thanks to women in Aswan'. Bratt was the managing director of the Swedish Arbetsgivareföreningens Allmänna Grupp from 1941 to 1970, he was an art lover who had been looking for a large painting to be hung in the company's board room, which was initially in the beautiful dining room of the Burmese palace, located 4A Blasieholmshamnen in Stockholm. The Happiness of Nubia was then moved to the company's new premises on Basieholmsgatan.

Born in 1919 in Cairo, Tahia Halim was raised within the walls of the Royal Palace as her father was the laureate of King Fouad. She studied painting first under Youssef Traboulsi and later under Hamed Abdallah in 1943, whom she married in 1945. From 1949 to 1951, Tahia studied in Paris at the prestigious Académie Julian. When she returned to Egypt in 1951 and started exhibiting her works locally and internationally, she developed an Impressionist style inspired by the Egyptian folk culture. The 1950s were Tahia's decade of consecration; in 1958, she received the first Guggenheim prize for her work entitled Pity, which was later acquired by the museum; two years later, she was granted the Gold Medal at the Cairo Salon exhibition and her works were exhibited that same year at the Venice Biennale, revealing her early exposure in the international art scene.

After 1962, Tahia Halim focused on Nubia and on Ancient Egyptian cultural heritage and forged her signature style, producing her most sought-after works. The Happiness of Nubia epitomises this Nubian period and stands as one of Halim's most ambitious compositions. A few rare comparable examples are found in museums or major corporate collections, such as Marriage Gifts in Nubia (Museum of Modern Egyptian Art, Cairo) or The Nile Thanksgiving Day (Al Ahram Corporate Collection, Cairo).

Painted in 1965, the year of Gamal Abdel Nasser's second presidency and at the time of the construction of the Aswan High Dam, it is probable that there is a socio-political dimension to this striking composition by Tahia Halim, as suggested by Dr. Al-Sharouny's title. Alongside fellow artists Hussein Bicar, the Wanly brothers and Adam Henein, Tahia Halim had been invited to spend time in Nubia by the Minister of Culture, Tharwat Okasha, before the Aswan High Dam project was to flood Nubian lands and displace the people. The construction of the High Dam on the Nile River in Aswan, identified as one of Nasser's main achievements, was a pivotal innovation for the industrialisation and modernisation of Egypt's economy and agriculture, as well as being a solution to control floods in that region. At the same time, there were consequences to this construction, including an exodus of more than 100,000 people who were forced to relocate and the flooding of numerous villages, as well as Nubian archeological sites being submerged by water.

Nonetheless, as opposed to the threatening depiction of the Aswan High Dam painted by Alexandrian counterpart Effat Naghi in 1966 (Lot 95 in the present sale), Tahia Halim focused on the positive impact of the new dam, having interacted with the Nubian people prior to their migration during her trip. In The Happiness of Nubia, Halim sought to capture the celebratory mood of the scene and to immortalise a truly historic turning-point for the Nubian and Egyptian people, whose lives were to be transformed by the Aswan High Dam. Her ingenuous composition and exquisitely rich palette of colours, heightened by gold leaf are predominated by Halim's use of her signature earthy ochre tone, but also by a luminous white that supersedes her usual colours in the present work. The latter enhances the purity of the artist's perception and her honest depiction of the Nubian people. She appears to pay tribute to them by depicting a composition that is reminiscent of Ancient Egyptian frescoes, through its size, style and technique. The rows of figures, most of whom are represented in profile, the subtle symmetry of her composition and the overall surface of the painting tempered by earthy colours, reveal Halim's homage to her country's rich cultural heritage. She further celebrates the Nubian people's status of peasants through her touches of gold leaf, gleaming through the thick painted surface in places. Gold colour was usually reserved for royals in Ancient Egyptian wall-painting, whereas Halim subverts its traditional connotation by employing it for her depiction of an Egyptian rural scene. Through this outstanding masterpiece, Tahia Halim exemplifies her strong belief and inspiration in tradition, nature and history and at the same time, she expresses her deep love and affection for her native homeland. The Happiness of Nubia represents Nubia's Jubilation over President Gamal Abdel Nasser, while it evokes the artist's own jubilation of peasant life, tradition, history, Ancient Egyptian art and of her beloved country.

As Hussein Bicar rightly described her, Tahia Halim had 'nothing but inexhaustible love flowing from her heart, works and behavior' (quoted in S. Al-Sharouny, Tahia Halim: Mythical Realism, Cairo 1999, p.116).

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