A leading figure of the Modern Iraqi art scene in the mid-20th century, Shaker Hassan Al-Saïd embodies the example of a versatile artist as he was a painter, a sculptor, an accomplished writer and art critic. Born in Samawah in 1925, he spent his entire life in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad. In 1951, he co-founded with his friend Jewad Selim (1919- 1961) the Baghdad Modern Art Group (‘Jama'et Baghdad lil Fann al-Hadith’), three years before graduating from the Institute of Fine Arts of Baghdad in 1954. He then pursued his studies in Paris at two prestigious art establishments before returning to his home country where he taught art history at the Institute of Fine Arts from 1970 to 1980.
The Baghdad Modern Art Group is arguably one of the most innovative 20th century art movements in the Middle-East. The group’s goal was to create a pictorial vocabulary that embraced both modern technique and traditional themes, epitomised by the present lot painted in 1952, just one year after the group’s creation. In this vibrant fiery composition, Shaker Hassan depicted the soft peaceful subject matter of two birds, perched in a fruit tree, which seem to be singing to the world. A master of geometric shapes, he succeeds in outlining the birds’ wings and the branches and leaves with bold curves that infuse a powerful energy to the composition, giving the impression that the wind is blowing through the scene. The warm colour tones of red, yellow and orange, combined with a wide array of patterns, inspired by ancient Iraqi carpets, enabled him to camouflage a third bird in the lower left corner with the foliage and filled this work an enchanting happiness and a rhythmic lyricism. Furthermore, Shaker Hassan offers a symbolic and historical dimension to his painting with the tree, commonly alluding to life, that here metaphorically represents his homeland’s fertile agricultural lands, which have been exploited since the first Mesopotamian civilisations. The work’s lack of perspective and simplifications of forms beautifully imbued with a rich palette, dynamism and symbolism define Shaker Hassan’s unique primitive style that was also present in The Articulate Cockerel (‘Al Deek Al Faseeh’, 1954) sold by Christie’s Dubai in March 2014 (price realised: $171,750).