The contemporary and Egyptian art collections of Dr Mohammed Said Farsi

Dr Mohammed Farsi was born in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, but moved to the city of Jeddah, "The Bride of the Red Sea" whilst still a small child, and fell in love with the city. Looking out over the Red Sea stirred an aesthetic sense in him as he considered the sea's horizons and unknown depths.

Farsi studied architecture and town planning in Alexandria, Egypt, and went into government service in 1963, at age 29, when he was appointed Town Planning Officer for Jeddah.

He was very successful in the role, and became Planning Officer for the Western Regions of Saudi Arabia in 1965, before returning to Jeddah as its Mayor and city planner in 1972. Jeddah was in need of a responsive mind in charge as it was undergoing great changes at the time.

The city grew fivefold during Farsi's time in charge, with a population of 300,000 when he started reaching 1.5 million, and became ever more important commercially, as well as for a pilgrimage destination.

Farsi travelled around the world, meeting with sculptors, artists, painters and musicians, and talking with them about his vision, "... to have in our city, places of beauty." Space in Jeddah is proportioned harmoniously, and Farsi brought beauty to the architecture.

He oversaw the installation of sculptures by internationally acclaimed masters including Joan Miró, Henry Moore, Salah Abdulkarim and Aref El-Rayess, making the city one of the largest open-air galleries in the world.

Following his retirement from the role in 1986, one of the things which Mohammed Farsi has done is to establish a Chair of Islamic Peace at the School of International Service, American University - the first to be established in the USA.

Farsi learned the Qur'an from a very early age, and meeting people on his travels around the world chimed with his understanding of Islam as a force for tolerance and inclusiveness -a message often lost in recent times - just as the world could be united through culture.

Over the years, Mohammed Farsi assembled his own collection of international and contemporary art, focusing on Egyptian art - acknowledged as the most comprehensive group of modern Egyptian art in private hands, and the subject of a book by scholar Dr Sobhy Sharouny.

Mahmoud Said's Les Chadoufs
Mahmoud Said's Les Chadoufs

Christie's has held two sales this year with a selection of 25 masterpieces going under the hammer in April and more being sold in October.

At the earlier sale, Jussi Pylkkanen, President of Christie's Europe and Middle East commented "We are honoured to be offering at auction a selection of masterpieces from such a distinguished collection.

"Dr. Farsi is renowned throughout the Middle East for his appreciation and promotion of the visual arts, and this shines through in his own collection which represents the greatest group of modern Egyptian art in private hands."

In both sales Mahmoud Said led the way. First with early work Les Chadoufs in April which cruised past its $150,000-$200,000 estimate to bring $2,434,500 - a world record price at auction for any painting by any Middle Eastern artist at auction. Christie's noted:

"In this painting, without doubt one of Said's most classically inspired compostitions, he links Egypt's antiquity to her present as a powerful metaphor for an Egyptian Renaissance."

The Whirling Dervishes
The Whirling Dervishes

In the latter sale, the day was led by Mahmoud Said's The Whirling Dervishes, which beat even Les Chadoufs and sold for $2.5m.

The painting depicts six Mawlawi dervishes, each identically clad and with similar features but subtly different postures, performing a Sema dance around the circular stage of an Ottoman-era Semahane (ritual hall).

The sales show the investment power at this time of Middle Eastern art (the first auction tripled expectations) as the world has woken up to the great value to be found there.

Of course, Mohammed Farsi can claim a measure of the credit for that, as well as reaping the benefits.


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