Ranging from declarations of love and outpourings of grief to observations on sales, or the lack of them, our collection of letters from and to artists offers a rare and fascinating glimpse into the private world of a creative force
While artists will always express themselves first and foremost through their work, what they say to loved ones and colleagues in writing can be equally revealing, as our collection of letters on the following pages shows.
The compilation is both varied and inspirational, comprising a mix of correspondence provided by the historian and curator, Sam Bardaouil, whose book and show on the Surrealism movement in Egypt are featured later on in this edition, and extensive research undertaken by the Selections team.
Some of the correspondence is factual, giving us a wonderful insight into the challenges that artists faced when attempting to promote or sell their work, while other notes are brimming with emotion.
Highlights include a letter from a series written by Gibran Khalil Gibran to Marie El Khoury, shared with Selections by Ashkan Baghestani, head of sale, deputy director, Contemporary and Modern Arab and Iranian art at Sotheby’s. A note to self by Willy Aractingi provided by his daughter, June Nabaa, makes for another wonderful read, as does correspondence between the artists Saiid Baalbaki and Marwan Kassab Bacha, both of whom were based in Berlin and regularly exchanged letters.
Among the most poignant mementos are a touching birthday wish written by the artist Fawzi Baalbaki to his daughter Youmna, and shared with Selections by his son, the painter Ayman Baalbaki, and the letter that the artist Minas Avetisyan wrote to Paul Guiragossian after his good friend was forced to have his leg amputated. Equally touching is the farewell note penned by the Jordanian sculptor Mona Saudi to Guiragossian on his death.
Other correspondence, such as the exchange of letters between the artists Georges Hanna Sabbagh and E.L.T Mesens and another written by Mahmoud Saiid, all shared by Bardaouil, gives us some insight into the practicalities that they had to deal with, such as transporting their works.
Significantly, a separate contribution in the form of a letter that Amy Smert (Nimr) wrote to Mamoud Saiid enabled Bardaouil to place the artist for the first time at the heart of the art scene in 1930s’ Paris since it included her address, highlighting the role that artefacts can play as tools of historical research. Also of historical interest are the thoughts of the poet Georges Henein, writing to the artist Ramses Younane against a backdrop of political and cultural change in 1940s’ Cairo.
Other more unusual, but equally captivating missives include notes inspired by a poem created by the Lebanese talent, Zad Moultaka, and a painting of a rooster that the Iraqi artist Ismael Fattah sent to a printing studio.
We hope you enjoy reading our compilation of communiqués as much as we delighted in putting it together.