This magnificent work, the largest Sepehri to come to public auction with impeccable provenance, was a personal commission by a member of the late Shah's cabinet from Sohrab Sepehri in 1976. Two years after it was painted and hung by the artist himself in the minister's office, it was relocated first to London and then to the United States, and has remained in private hands since.
One of the most highly acclaimed and reserved of Iran's modern masters, Sohrab Sepehri, poet and artist, has left an indelible mark on the Iranian art scene. His untimely death was keenly felt by his friends and family, and was a significant loss to his milieu, both literary and artistic. Sepehri's shy retiring character found expression in these lyrical paintings of trees and landscapes, and his poet's sensibility is immortalised in the soft brush strokes and tempered palette.
Together, his father, a man of artistic temperament, and his mother, a lover of poetry and literature, instilled in Sepehri a spirituality and dignity that produced the reflective, classical beauty 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 minimalism and partial abstraction. Semi-abstracted groves of trees, sweeping boughs and impressionistic landscapes dominate his oeuvre and through these techniques he somehow achieves both an absolute sense of place, and a timeless reverie.
Sepehri wrote prolifically in his journals, in which he recalls a childhood spent wandering the rolling landscape surrounding his home "All my dreams led to the desert and to the trees..." (www.sohrabsepehri.com) 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 portrayals capture absolutely the quiet grandeur of ancient forests and harbour an undeniable mystical quality; it became Sepehri's favourite subject matter, and one of his greatest fascinations.
Sepehri's partial representation of tree trunks to indicate the whole tree was intentional, and symbolic of his introspection and state of mind. To Sepehri minimalism wasn't just an artistic tool but a reflection of his emotional and psychological condition. The Tree Trunks Series was painted during a spell in New York when he was working on major commissions for museums and was under a great deal of pressure. The repetition of the image was a practical method for Sepehri in his desire to achieve a sense of unity and completion. The trees were a solace to the artist, in which he found a simplicity that put him at ease, they became an escape from the hustle of Manhattan, and the pressures on his time. This desire to retreat to his home of desert and trees that manifested itself in this cycle of paintings, is attested by his immediate withdrawal to Tehran and then to Kashan on completion of the commissions.
Both his technique and the mystical aspect of his painting was heavily informed, not just by the landscape, miniature painting and Sufism of his homeland, but also by the time he spent in Tokyo during the 1960s. Whilst in Japan, Sepehri was exposed to Japanese Haikus as well as the ancient paintings of Japan's medieval masters, such as Sesshu Toyo and Hakuin Ekaku. From them Sepehri learnt the flattening of space, dark outlines and earthy palette for which he became known.
This monumental painting is the largest and most significant work by Sohrab Sepehri to come to public auction to date. Very few Sepehris of this scale can be found in private hands as the majority were commissioned by major museums in whose collections they remain. It is due to the pedigree of this painting, commissioned by a minister, that it is comparable in size, scale and quality to the masterpieces he painted for public institutions. It is the supreme example of his elegant brushwork, the restraint of his 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 aspects of his practice. It is undeniably a collector's piece.
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