Details & Cataloguing

Boundless: Dubai


Sohrab Sepehri
signed and dated Sepehri '70
oil on canvas
81.7 by 107cm.; 32 1/8 by 42in.
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Seyhoun Gallery, Tehran
Private Collection, Tehran (acquired directly from the above in 1970-1973)
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 1977


Tehran, Seyhoun Gallery, Sohrab Sepehri, 1970-1971

Catalogue Note

Sotheby's is honoured to offer two exceptional and rare works by Sohrab Sepehri.

One of the most highly acclaimed of Iran's modern masters, the poet and artist Sohrab Sepehri left an indelible mark on the Iranian art scene. His untimely death was felt sharply by his friends and family, and marked a significant loss to the literary and artistic landscape. Sepehri's reserved character found expression in his lyrical paintings of trees and landscapes, while his poetic sensibility is made manifest in his soft brush strokes and tempered colours. His technique and his tendency towards mysticism were informed by the natural landscape, miniature painting and the Sufism of his homeland, and also by the time he spent in Tokyo during the 1960s. Whilst in Japan, Sepehri was exposed to haiku as well as to ancient paintings by Japanese medieval masters, such as Sesshu Toyo and Hakuin Ekaku. The flattened spaces, dark outlines and earthy palette for which Sepehri would later become known were in some sense a result of this experience. His father was a man of artistic temperament, and his mother, a lover of poetry and literature. Together they instilled in Sepehri a certain spirituality and dignity that formed the reflective, classical feeling of his poems and paintings.

Born in Kashan in 1928, Sepehri continually paid homage to the beauty of his childhood home. His paintings capture the untamed grace of Kashan through partial abstraction and minimalism. Semi-abstracted groves of trees, sweeping boughs and impressionistic landscapes dominate his oeuvre, somehow achieving both an absolute sense of place, and an aura of timeless reverie.

In one of the artist’s journals, he recalls a childhood spent wandering the rolling landscape surrounding his home "All my dreams led to the desert and to the trees..." Sepehri celebrates the tree not only for the air it provides, but also for its role as undiscriminating shelter to both man and beast. To him the tree was a symbol of benevolence and stability in a world corrupted by ignorance and malice. His majestic canvases capture the quiet grandeur of ancient forests and harbour an undeniably mystical quality. The tree became Sepehri's favourite subject matter, and one of his greatest fascinations.

Sepehri's metonymic representation of tree trunks was intentional, and symbolic of the artist’s introspective character. To Sepehri, minimalism was not simply a conceptual tool but a reflection of his own emotional and psychological condition. The repetition of images was a practical consideration, aiding him in his desire to achieve a sense of unity and completion. Trees were a true source of solace to the artist; he found in them a simplicity that made him feel at ease and they represented an escape from the city life of Manhattan. The desire to retreat to the sylvan home of desert and trees which appears in this cycle of paintings is attested by Sepehri’s eventual return to Tehran in 1980, and then to Kashan. Kashan is most likely the site which inspired Untitled (Village), which represents typical Persian mud houses in the desert. The contours which delineate the roofs and the horizon are beautifully tender and evocative, while the vastness of the desert sky and undulating landscape is made conspicuous by its deliberate freedom from detail. The picture also speaks to the evanescent nature of memory in its exceptional description of a landscape in just a few meaningful forms. 

Untitled (From the Tree Trunk series) is a unique painting; a rare composition of striking formal complexity, and rich, elaborately-layered green and grey hues. Untitled is one of the rarest and most significant works by Sohrab Sepehri to come to public auction to date. Very few works of this colour palette can be found in private hands. The work was exhibited at the Seyhoun Gallery in the early 1970s, where the painting was previously acquired. It is due to the pedigree of this painting that it is comparable in size, scale and quality to the masterpieces he painted specifically for public institutions. It is a magnificent example of Sepehri’s elegant brushwork and restrained palette, the influence of the Far East and the profound love he had for his homeland. This work displays the artist's inspirations, his influences and the key tenets of his practice. It is undeniably a collector's piece.

Boundless: Dubai