Christie’s is delighted to present two exquisite works, Portrait of Karl Flinker and an untitled still life, by Manoucher Yektai, from an Important Private Collection in Paris. Previously held in the collection of the renowned French gallery owner Karl Flinker, who befriended the artist while he lived in Paris, these two works are a testimony to the close ties of Yektai to Western art and to the multiple aesthetic influences that shaped his oeuvre and career. Recently rediscovered, they are outstanding compositions that evoke a fruitful artistic era, dating back to the 1960s in France.
One of the most sought after practitioners of figurative painting, Manoucher Yektai has created a distinctive style fusing his Persian culture and heritage with Post-modernism, continually building bridges between East and West through works that transcend conventional Expressionism and classical portraiture. Born in Iran, Yektai moved to Paris to study at the Ecole Supérieure des Beaux-Arts where he was pushed to focus on the palette, paint handling and texture alike his peers, experimenting within the circles of the Ecole de Paris and the French wave of Abstract Expressionism. It is possibly during that time that Yektai met the well-known gallerist Karl Flinker, of whom the present composition is a captivating portrait, before he moved to New York, where he settled. During his time in the US, Yektai visited Paris on several occasions as he remained attached to the cultural scene he had experienced as a student and in New York, his exposure to Hans Hofmann and the Abstract Expressionist artists provided a clear influence on his work. However, instead of mimicking the gestural brushstrokes and expressionist styles of his peers, Yektai instead remained attached to figuration and established his own signature style that has been widely acclaimed ever since.
The present two works are seminal examples from Yektai’s oeuvre. Yektai painted mainly still-lives and abstracted portraits, focusing on the texture and the thick impastos that allowed him to express himself through vivid brushstrokes bursting in staccato. In the 1950s and 1960s, he painted numerous portraits of his friends and acquaintances, many of whom were well known European and American intellectuals. Karl Flinker was the son of Martin Flinker (1895-1986), an important Austrian librarian, publisher, author and literary critic, specialised in German literature and whose role within the intellectual Parisian scene of the Post-War era is still celebrated today. Martin Flinker fed Vienna with his son Karl, then aged fourteen, following the Anschluss in March 1938 and settled for a few years in the French capital. With the start of the Second World War, the Flinkers had to fee once again and via Bordeaux and Madrid, they reached Tangiers in Morocco, having lost all of their loved ones who were left behind as a result of the war and genocide. The father and son, left on their own and evidently affected by the tragedy that struck with the war, returned to Paris at the end of the year and founded their eponymous bookshop and publishing company in the heart of the capital, on the Quai des Orfèvres, a meeting point and favoured city spot for the French writers and intellectuals avid of German literature. Friends with some of the most important writers, philosophers and artists of the century including Stefan Zweig, Hermann Hesse, Paul Celan, Jacques Lacan, Louis Aragon, Henri Michaux and Oskar Kokoschka, both Martin and Karl were actively involved in shaping the intellectual scene of the Post-War era and were highly instrumental within the Parisian elite. Karl Flinker, himself an intellectual, opened his eponymous art gallery in Paris a few years later and worked closely with some of the most important artists of his time, such as Kupka, Klee, Kandinsky and Arroyo; he is celebrated until today as a key dealer, gallery owner and avid collector of European art.
Alike most of Yektai’s sitters, Karl Flinker is depicted on a white background devoid of superfluous details with deeply worked surfaces alternating between thick and thin, white and colour. An outstanding example from his sought after ‘Action Portraits’, the present work reveals Yektai’s attempt to merge the impulsive techniques of Action Painting with the academic style of portraiture.
Through his gestural dynamism and choice of colours, Yektai succeeded at rendering the sitter’s charisma and character. He approaches the face of the sitter with the same painterly method that he applies to his still-lives and details, with thick swirls of quasi-sculptural impasto, implying a sense of movement although the man is sitting still, as if to allude to his strong personality and prominence in the Paris of the 1960s. A timeless portrait, Portrait of Karl Flinker is so captivating that it transports the viewer to the flourishing Post-War art scene in Paris while it is reminiscent, not only of the works of the American Abstract Expressionists that he had met, but equally of German Expressionism and the striking portraits that were realised by German and Austrian artists in the first half of the century. As such, through his portrait, Yektai subtly pays tribute to Karl Flinker’s dedication to the arts as well as to history of art itself while experimenting with colour, texture and the picture plane and evidently resonating the mutual friendship and respect between himself and the sitter.
The still-life (Lot 147), which was also acquired from the artist by Karl Flinker, possibly a few years after the portrait, is one of the most striking still-lives realised by the artist. With warm hues, thick texture and gestural brushstrokes, Yektai manages to render the warmth of a Parisian interior. A vase of flowers is delicately depicted next to an apparently weighty book while barely decipherable words suggest the headline or titles of a French newspaper. These intricate details are a clear reference to the attachment of Karl Flinker and his father to literature and to their tight links to the intellectual circles of their time a sort of homage to the Flinker’s posterity.
With details so striking that transport the viewer to a golden era of intellectual accomplishment, these two works, from an Important Private Collection in Paris, are exceptional examples of Yektai’s artistic exploration from a stylistic viewpoint. Paying homage to the legacy of Martin Flinker as well as to the instrumental role of Karl Flinker within the French intellectual society of the 1960s and 1970s, these two compositions flawlessly encapsulate the spirit of Parisian life and expose the viewers to the flourishing art and literary scenes of the European Post-War era.