Manoucher Yektai can be considered one of the most sought-after practitioners of figurative painting who has managed to create a unique and distinct style that meshes together a post-Modernist style with his Persian culture, a mix between East and West that transcends conventional Expressionism and portraiture. Intensively concerned with the physical manipulation of pigment in his extensive oeuvre, his compositions adopt a thick painting surface, with heavily worked ridges that profess a passionate and lyrical homage to paint
as a pure carrier of colour and trace, that is sculptural in quality. Born in Iran, Yektai left for Paris to study at the Ecole Supérieure des Beaux-Arts where he was pushed to focus on the palette, paint handling and texture of surface that laid the foundation of his distinctive style.
Yektai moved to New York in 1947 and has remained in America since. His exposure to artists such as Hans Hofmann and the Abstract Expressionists at the time provided a clear influence on his work. However, instead of adhering to a strict Expressionist style, Yektai moved into more figurative painting, insisting on the value of figuration as opposed to the extremity of Abstract Expressionism.
Much of Yektai's oeuvre is dominated by either still life work or portraits that adhere to the modelling of light and dark values using the thick torrential impasto that barely respects the shapes and edges of things. In the 1950s his works gravitated more towards increased figuration, with deeply worked surfaces alternating between thick and thin, white and colour that later became referred to as 'Action Portraits' - which would be the artist's attempt to merge the impulsive techniques of Action Painting with the studied tradition of portraiture.
Christie's is delighted to be offering the present work, Portrait of Robert Monroe, which is a captivating example of Yektai's practice of the aforementioned 'Action Portraits'. As with these portraits, the sitter is shown in full, seated clearly within an indoor setting, a vase with flowers appears to be on the side table placing the figure within a location yet somehow simultaneously separating the figure. Yektai has been particularly audacious in approaching the face of the sitter with the same painterly method applied to all of his paintings - thick swirls of quasi-sculptural impasto emphasise the difference between paint and surface, implying a sense of movement in the painting even though the figure appears to be still.
The sitter and owner of the painting, Robert Monroe, is a well-known and highly regarded photographer who has contributed towards many well-known magazines such as Vogue, Town and Country, Charm, Seventeen, Newsweek amongst many others with his work exhibited at MoMA, the Smithsonian and many notable institutions. Having developed a deep friendship with Yektai in the 1960s, the artist stayed at Monroe's residence located at 128 East 78th Street in Manhattan where the present portrait was captured. In this portrait,
Yektai successfully manages to render the visual and psychological presence of the sitter in a way that allows the eyes of the sitter to pierce through the viewer's soul that resonates deeply and highlights the profound and mutual friendship between the sitter and the artist, leaving it one of the best portraits by the artist to ever come to auction.