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Sohrab Sepehri (Iranian, 1928-1980)
Sohrab Sepehri (Iranian, 1928-1980)


Sohrab Sepehri (Iranian, 1928-1980)
signed in Farsi (lower right)
oil on canvas
39 1/8 x 62 ½in. (99.5 x 158.8cm.)
Painted circa late 1960s
Private collection, Tehran (acquired directly from the artist in the late 1960s/early 1970s).
Golestan Gallery, Tehran (acquired from the above).
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2015.

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Masa Al-Kutoubi
Masa Al-Kutoubi

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Lot Essay

One of the largest and most enchanting paintings to appear at auction, the present work encapsulates the very best of what has placed Sohrab Sepehri at the forefront of Iranian art. A poet whose heritage is widely celebrated to this day, Sepehri is impartially considered the Father of Modern Art in Iran. Born in Kashan in 1928, avid of discoveries and with a curious mind, he travelled from a young age to explore the world. His journey began in 1957 when he first settled in Paris and enrolled at the Académie des Beaux-Arts. The following year, he stayed in Rome, visited the Venice Biennale, travelled to Africa and then India and ended his journey in Japan in 1960, where he found himself inspired by traditional Japanese art and culture. It is in Tokyo that Sepehri discovered the Far-Eastern techniques in art and turned towards spirituality, an experience that changed his life and career as a multidisciplinary artist. In 1965, upon his return to his native Iran and after having resigned from his occupation as a governmental employee, Sepehri focused on his art of poetry and painting and started a series of minimal and almost abstract compositions.

Reminiscent of the misty landscapes of Japanese hand-painted scrolls, Sepehri demonstrates a deep understanding for the essence and the metaphysical meaning of the tree. His bold yet austere style coupled with a restrained palette, consisting of earthy greys, browns and greens, equally reflects the formal limitations of the Zen tradition and is reminiscent of the ink parchments illustrated by the Zen masters Sesshu Toyo and Hakuin Ekaku. The wide and horizontal format of the canvas serves to exemplify the notion of the landscape sweeping across a vast swathe of empty space. Highly symbolic and spiritual in their essence, the movements of Sepehri’s brush evoke the style of lyrical abstract and abstract expressionist artists, while the philosophy carried by the overall composition is essentially linked to Sufism and to the artist's Persian heritage.

Beyond the conventional style of landscape painting that was in place in the Iranian art scene at the time, Sepehri singularised himself and his art by injecting his poetry onto his canvas. The trees that Sepehri depicts surpass their physical remembrance and eventually incarnate the universal ideal of the Garden of Eden. As he reveals his deep understanding and admiration for the essence and the metaphysical meaning of the tree, he also positions his trees in the context of modernity. The amalgamation of influences and the aesthetic quality of the work are what define the artist’s signature style making the present work in particular an inspiring piece that captures the viewer’s imagination and soul.

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