Fahrelnissa Zeid started painting in her early teens, when she joined Istanbul’s Academy of Fine Arts as one of its first female students. In 1927 she travelled to Paris, where she studied painting under Roger Bissière (1886–1964), established links with local groups of artists, and produced a number of portraits and self-portraits. Her best-known style is that of Byzantine-inspired compositions and portraits, which depict sitters with exaggerated features and elongated figures. Her portraits not only documented individuals’ features but were also meant to extend the likeness beyond the depicted physical qualities, conveying the personalities of her subjects through color and brushwork.
In the 1950s, Zeid joined thirty other artists in what was referred to as the New École de Paris, a group whose members were known for their innovative abstract styles. The paintings shown here were completed during that significant period of Zeid’s career, when she lived in several European cities. Zeid’s dramatic brushstrokes and contrasting colors evidence her ongoing experimentation with abstraction during this period. Thick lines flow in a manner that differs from her paintings of the 1940s, in which she exaggerated geometric forms and emphasized the connection of sharp points and edges. With their woven lines and loosely outlined shapes, these two works evoke Zeid’s knowledge of color and her lifelong interest in exploring spirituality, geometry and the limits of representation through painting. Mathaf hosts one of the most important public collections of Zeid’s work.