The Tate Modern presents the UK’s first retrospective of Fahrelnissa Zeid who is best known for her large-scale colourful canvases which often combines European approaches with Byzantine, Islamic and Persian influences.
This major exhibition brings together paintings, drawings and sculptures spanning over 40 years beginning with expressionist works made in Istanbul in the early 1940s, abstract canvases exhibited in London, Paris and New York in the 1950s and 1960s and finishing with the artist’s return to portraiture later in life.
Zeid was one of the first women to receive formal training as an artist in Istanbul and continued her studies in Paris in the late 1920s. However it was in the 1940s that the artist began to experiment and develop her own particular style blending European painting traditions with Oriental themes. In the exhibition, works from this period include Third-Class Passengers 1943, Three Ways of Living (War) 1943 and Three Moments in a Day and a Life 1944.
In 1945 Zeid and her husband, Prince Zeid Al-Hussein moved to the UK where he had been posted as Iraqi Ambassador. Her changing life experiences led to the development of her artistic career in London and Paris. Zeid’s exhibitions were generally well received by critics and she earned a growing reputation and was considered one of the most interesting female artists working at the time.
It was also at this time that Zeid’s work moved away from figuration to abstraction. Works such as Fight against Abstraction 1947, Resolved Problems 1948 and key pieces from her 1954 show at the ICA in London, such as My Hell 1951 and The Octopus of Triton 1953, represent the artist at her most productive creating large, vibrant and colourful canvases.
Unfortunately for Zeid, her privileged environment was to suddenly change when members of her husband’s family were assassinated in a military coup in Iraq in 1958, Zeid and her husband were forced to vacate the embassy and move into a modest flat. The change of circumstances led Zeid to experiment with painting on turkey and chicken bones, which she later cast in polyester resin panels, a selection of which will feature in the exhibition.
The shock of losing family and friends in the coup led to a return to figurative painting and especially portrait painting. For the last 20 years of her life, she painted portraits of her friends and family. The exhibition ends with a number of these portraits which includes Charles Estienne c.1964, Khalid Shoman 1984, Suha 1983 and Someone from the Past 1980.
Towards the end of her life, Zeid moved to Amman, Jordan, where she turned her home into an informal art school and taught a group of female students.
This fascinating exhibition introduces the extraordinary Fahrelnissa Zeid to a wider audience. Her remarkable career provides evidence of her ability to overcome numerous obstacles in the pursuit of her art. Whilst she did achieve success in the 1940s, 50s and 60s, since then her work has been generally overlooked and ignored.
Walking around the exhibition, it is difficult to understand why this should have happened? The large dynamic, colourful and intricate paintings are full of passion and drama. In many ways they are reflective of the artist who was a larger than life character. This Tate Modern exhibition considers Zeid as an important figure in the international story of abstract art and offers an opportunity to consider her considerable visual legacy.
Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended
For more information or to book tickets, visit the Tate Modern website here
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