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Christie's is proud to offer in this sale two exquisite and charming works by the Iranian Modernist Behjat Sadr, arguably the most important and most influential Modern Iranian female artist of the 20th century. Both compositions are typical of Behjat Sadr's aesthetic experimentations and reveal her dedication to shape and colour. With splashes of scarlet yellow hues that contrast with the darker and sharper shapes, both works are like glowing flames in a rough land. The first work in this sale has the vibrancy of the aluminum-like texture that she worked with, whereas the second one is a rare canvas on which Sadr has projected her expressionist style in a structural and captivating manner. A testimony to her European modernity, both compositions are yet fused with an inspiration from her Oriental and Iranian visual culture.
A leading figure in the development of Iranian Modern art, she has been internationally recognised since the late 1950s and was selected to participate to the Venice Biennale in 1958 and again in 1962, catching the eye of number of influential critics including Michel Tapié and Michel Ragon. In 1963, Sadr took part in the So Paulo Biennale and in the acclaimed exhibition Comparaisons at the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. This early exposure paved the way to a long and much celebrated career.
Born in Arak, Iran in 1924, Sadr studied at the Faculty of Fine Arts of the University of Tehran and later was granted a scholarship at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Florence. She soon pursued her artistic education at the Naples Academy of Fine Arts and graduated in 1958, the same year her works were exposed to an international audience in Venice for the first time. She later travelled across Europe, living in Paris in the late 1960s and eventually returned to Iran where she taught at the Faculty of Fine Arts. Following the Islamic Revolution in Iran, Sadr left her country and settled in Paris with her daughter.
Sadr developed her signature style during her years in Italy and effectively fused her Western influences with her Persian cultural heritage, but paved the way to new horizons in Modern painting.
She did not want to represent reality like most of her contemporaries, but was rather fascinated by the infinite combinations of form and colour. She never bonded with any particular style of movement and stood away from the traditionalist school of Saqqakhaneh that was prominent and popular since the early 1960s. Although to some extent influenced by the art of her homeland and calligraphy in particular, she retained only the gestural impulse from it, rather than the aesthetics.
To experiment with paint, she moved away from the academic style and traditional easel practice, preferring to lay her canvases on the ground in the manner of the American Abstract Expressionist painters or the French Lyrical Abstract artists of her generation. Her works are non-representational canvases and with her recognisable thick and saturated brush strokes of paint, superimposed layer upon layer vertically and horizontally, sometimes manipulated with tools, brushes or even her own hands, she created captivating abstract grids of colour. She would in fact experiment with material and gesture, as she would remove parts of the swatches of colour in an action she would refer to as 'negative painting'. At times, she would spontaneously incorporate photographic collages in the centre of her compositions, to disrupt the abstraction of the background and simultaneously add her own narrative to the painting. The photographs, often fragments of shots she would take during her walks, were juxtaposed on the paint surface like fragments of diffuse memories that allowed her to tirelessly experiment with art.
With her works and her extraordinary legacy, Behjat Sadr is recognised today as one of the most influential Abstract and Gestural artists of her generation. Often compared to international artists such as Pierre Soulages or Pierre Alechinsky, Sadr denied any specific connections with any artists or any style, but is remembered today as undeniably a leading figure in the shaping of Modern Iranian art. Behjat Sadr passed away at her home in Southern France in August 2009.
In recent years, many of her works were rediscovered through acclaimed exhibitions including Iran Modern at the Asia Society in New York in 2013-2014 and Iran: Unedited History 1960-2014 at the Muse d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, which has now travelled to MAXXI in Rome. Her works are featured in important collections including the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the Minneapolis Museum of Art and the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art.
'If it is meant to be, I will also paint today. It will be abstract again. It will be obscure again: blackness once more, violence once more. I will paint, and I will comfort scarlet smears or scarlet forms on the black background. I see a slice of red in black, a distorted arcade, and dried up tree. The colour green will materialize, but once again, the wind and the chill of winter and the storms will take hopes of greenery away. And then only the black on the black background will remain.' (Extract from Behjat Sadr's autobiographical notes for Mitra Farahani's documentary, Behjat Sadr: Suspended Time, published in M. Montazami & N. Sadeg, Behdjat Sadr Traces, Paris 2014, p. 34).
'I cannot keep quiet, and motion is something that exists in nature. Nature is colour, shape and motion, and I want my works to express these three elements. Shape as shape, colour as colour, and motion as motion. Not a tree whose branches would make a shape, and whose leaves would embody colours, and whose shapes and colours would be set in motion by the wind.' (The artist, an extract from "On Kinetic Works", circa 1967, published in M. Montazami & N. Sadeg, Behdjat Sadr Traces, Paris 2014 , p. 82).
PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE COLLECTION