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

Untitled (from the Trees series)

Sohrab Sepehri (Iranian, 1928-1980)
Untitled (from the Trees series)
signed in Farsi (lower right)
oil on canvas
39 3/8 x 51 1/8in. (100 x 130cm.)
Painted circa 1970s
Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner circa 1970s.
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Lot Essay

'He who can see a garden sketched in the tree's memory
Is forever, enlightened by the rapture of Eden's zephyr.'

(An extract from Sohrab Sepehri's poem "Sureh Tamasha", in A. Kabir, Sohrab Sepehri - Poet, Painter, Tehran 1990, p. 141; translated from Farsi).
One of the largest and most enchanting paintings from his Trees series to ever 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, referred to as his Trees series. In 1965, Sepehri settled in the US for a year, then again in Paris and again spent some time near New York in the early 1970s, where he acquainted the art of his fellow American artists.
His most sought after series, the Trees echo his retrained persona as a poet, a painter and an intellectual. Depicted with an austere style, with an almost ascetic intent, the trees are either attenuated or broad - in this case the latter, often featured without leaves or branches rather focusing on the sturdy quality of their trunks. Abstracted from individual features, they reflect the artist's belief in the beauty of the concise, a principle deriving from the Zen tradition which he discovered during his life-changing stay in Japan. Depicted in an austere style, yet bold and entrancing, his trees are equally reminiscent of the misty landscapes of Japanese hand-painted scrolls whilst they reflect the gestural brushstrokes of the Abstract Expressionist art movement that was popular with artists in the US and Europe in the Post-War era.
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 inject 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 trees and branches depicted as a bold foliage in the centre of the composition seem to move beyond the boundaries of the canvas support; intrepid and monumental, they are deprived of superfluous details and highly textured, revealing the artist's gestural brushstrokes against a soothing background. They are fundamental and unpretentious representations of nature, bearing various meanings; one such significance is that of the tree of life as the bodies of trees are rooted in earth, taking from the earth its water and minerals in order to flourish. Trees are also often associated with immortality and longevity, thus subtly echo the philosophical beliefs of the artist.
Highly symbolic and spiritual in their essence, Sepehri's trees are set against vast swathes of empty space. Their restrained palette of warm browns and dark greens reflect the formal limitation of the Zen tradition and recall the ancient ink parchments illustrated by the Zen masters Sesshu Toyo and Hakuin Ekaku. The movements of the 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. The amalgamation of influences and the aesthetic quality of the work are what define the signature style of Sepehri and his inspiring works left an indelible mark on generations of painters and poets after him.
Sohrab Sepehri, perhaps the most acclaimed Modern Iranian artist, was a constant traveller, a visionary poet and a passionate painter. He passed away prematurely in 1980, but his oeuvre had a lasting influence on generations of artists in and outside of Iran. One of the boldest and most impressive examples from his acclaimed Trees series, the present work, known to most admirers of Sepehri, was in private hands for decades. It is with honour and delight that Christie's is offering the work in their tenth-year anniversary sale this season.

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