BEIRUT: A collection of 33 letters and drawings by Gebran Khalil Gebran to his lover Madame Marie Azeez el-Khoury was auctioned for over $180,000 Tuesday – around four times its pre-estimated value. The auction took place at Sotheby’s Dubai, where multiple bidders sought to claim ownership over various items in the collection. The auction was “highly contested,” a press release from the art dealer said.
A spokesperson for Sotheby’s present at the auction could not be reached in time for publication, but Abigail Tavener, a junior press officer at Sotheby’s in London, told The Daily Star that the collection was dispersed among multiple buyers.
Ultimately, the letters and drawings in the collection were separated into four lots. Lot 60, 61 and 63 were purchased by private collectors and Lot 62 was sold to an anonymous buyer.
The original figure for the collection was placed at between $42,000 and $54,000, but the works were sold for a combined total of $183,750.
According to a Sotheby’s description, “This extensive group of letters brings to light the last major collection of Gebran memorabilia whose existence was practically unknown until recently.”
The letters provide a window into Gebran’s connection with Khoury.
“I am yearning for the golden corner that is filled with quiet and silence – and now, I stole an hour from my friends and came to a room to be alone and talk to you to revive my spirit with ideas and dreams that swim around my head when I sit alone and think of you,” Gebran wrote in one letter.
May Rihani, director of the George and Lisa Zakhem Khalil Gebran Chair for Values and Peace at the University of Maryland, worked first-hand with the letters following their recent acquisition by Sotheby’s. “Gebran and Khoury had an intimate relationship,” Rihani said. “They met in the United States when Khoury decided to organize dinner parties for Lebanese American intellectuals.”
Rihani’s uncle, Ameen Rihani, a Lebanese American writer and intellectual, was invited to the dinners attended by Khoury and Gebran.
“I remember when I was a little girl in Lebanon growing up, my father used to talk to me about these people. When he went to study at Columbia University in New York, he was invited with his brother to join these dinners,” she said.
Born in Mount Lebanon in 1882, Khoury moved to New York as a child with her family. According to Rihani, she graduated from an American college in 1900 – a significant accomplishment for an Arab American woman. “She married soon after college, but her husband died only two years after,” Rihani said. Despite the loss, Khoury worked to take over the family jewelry business in New York, finding success as an entrepreneur. Following her father’s death in 1905, 22-year-old Khoury maintained stores on Manhattan’s upscale Park and Fifth avenues.