Christie’s Dubai Yanks Iraqi Painting From Sale Over Smuggling Allegations

Christie’s Dubai confirmed to artnet News that it has withdrawn one of the expected highlights of its modern and contemporary art sale planned for tomorrow (March 18). The move, according to the auction house, is a response to questions about the work’s ownership history and allegations it may have been smuggled out of Iraq.

In a statement emailed to artnet News, the auction house said: “As per Christie’s protocol we would not offer works of art when there might be a dispute over title of ownership and as a result the work Untitled (Salah Al-Din, presumably Battle of Hattin) by Faeq Hassan, painted in 1968, has been withdrawn from the upcoming auction on 18 March in Dubai. Please note that to date we have not been issued a formal written notice of a title claim.”

The Iraqi artist’s painting Untitled (Salah Al-Din, presumably Battle of Hattin) carried an estimate of $400,000 to $500,000. The provenance for the work says it was in a private collection, having been acquired directly from the artist. The most recent provenance listing in the catalogue reads “property of a private Palestinian Collection.”

However, according to reports, Iraqi authorities claim that the work belongs to the state. Maysoon al-Damluji, an Iraqi parliament member and head of the commission for culture and information, told the AFP that the oil painting used to be displayed at the defense ministry, but had been smuggled out of the country.

“We have witnesses who say the painting was on display at the officers’ club,” al-Damluji said. “It is part of Iraqi heritage.” (artnet News reached out to al-Damluji for comment but had not received a response as of publication.)

In a lengthy catalogue entry, Christie’s described the work as “seminal,” noting the “magnificent and rare depiction of what is presumably the Battle of Hattin capturing the moment where Salah Al-Din Al Ayoubu defeats the Crusaders to reclaim and liberate Jerusalem.” The historic battle took place in northern Palestine and marked the defeat of the Christian Crusader armies of the king of Jerusalem by the Muslim forces of Salah Al-Din (aka Saladin), according to the entry.

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