Lot 22
  • 22

Bahman Mohasses

140,000 - 160,000 GBP
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  • Bahman Mohasses
  • Untitled (Satyr or Pan)
  • signed and dated B.Mohasses '65
  • oil on canvas 
  • 70 by 50cm.; 27 1/2 by 19 3/4 in.


Collection of Mr. Akbar Seif Nasseri, Tehran
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 2010


Condition: This work is in good condition. Some minute paint chips to the 4 corner tips and an additional 1cm paint ship along side the upper centre edge. No signs of restoration under the UV light. Colours: The colours in the catalogue illustration are accurate. The image fails to convey the rich texture of the paint.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

In his early years, Bahman Mohasses studied under Mohamed Habib Mohamadi who was himself a graduate of the Moscow Academy of Fine Arts. Mohasses moved to Tehran from Lahijan on the Caspian coast, and worked for a while as the Editor in Chief of a literary magazine. His first show took place at the Third Force Club, where he exhibited mainly still lifes, flowers, and portraits. Like many of the other leading artists of his generation, he wrote poetry and took interest in literature. After the oil nationalisation movement, he travelled to Rome in 1954. For a few months he painted at the Fine Arts Academy there, participating in a number of Biennals:  Venice (1956-8), Sao Paolo (1962), and Paris (1962).  In 1963 he returned to Iran and through his various solo and group shows at home and around the world (Rome, Milan, Florence, Beirut, Basel, Tehran) he played an important role in the Iranian modern art movement.  He was an accomplished sculptor, and would also translate prominent literary works from French and Italian to Farsi, as well as directing a number of avant-garde plays by Ionesco and Pirandello. He was reclusive by character, and suffered the disappointment of witnessing failures in a social environment for which he had high hopes.

Considered one of Iran’s pioneering modern masters, Mohasses was a highly cultured man who had something new to say. Like Mohsen Vaziri and Hossein Zenderoudi, he was one of few artists to bring Iranian art to a Western audience. Despite censorship in Iran and the continued shackles of traditionalism that lingered from the school of Kamal al Mulk, he persisted in his own path, becoming increasingly solitary. His unique and distinctive style has singled him out as a rare voice when his peers often resorted to calligraphy and native motifs. European paintings of the 15th to the 16th Century bridged with the 1920s and 1930s and the influence of Picasso are more perceptible in his art than Islamic symbolism.
With Untitled (Flute Player) from 1965, Mohasses appears strongly influenced by various mythological stories and artists of ancient times. Mohasses was fascinated by Greek and Roman mythology, one of the most tragic figures of which is the Minotaur. In this painting, the Minotaur subject is left aside to portray a Satyr. The satyrs were the companions of the God Dionysus with half-human, half-goat features from the haunches to the hooves, and were often depicted with small horns and permanent erections. In Hellenestic Art, the satyrs were often considered youthful and graceful with a strong respect for nature, the fauna (an ongoing theme in Mohasses body of work).
With Untitled, we can sense a strong influence from Picasso’s Flute Players, in terms of forms and Cubist features typical of the Spanish master. We can also decipher the mythological influence in portraying a half-Minotaur half-Satyr, Mohasses's two favourite subject matters throughout the 1960s. Mohasses spent a great deal of time in Italy, where he is likely to have studied the Renaissance masters, in particular the work of Michelangelo Buonarroti, for he shared with Michelangelo a love of the male form and a sculptural quality in execution that is undeniable. In Untitled, the powerful torso of the Minotaur from previous paintings is left aside to portray a softer, calmer and more peaceful Satyr subject. While Picasso’s composition portrays bucolic scenes of celebration and fecundity, Mohasses’s work typically reflects loneliness, it speaks of the human condition as he saw it: solitary, anthropo-morphised as half-man, half-satyr – sexually potent in a predatory way. A beautiful example of the artist’s mythological creatures, this work reflects Mohasses’s quintessential expressionism. The upper half of the painting is oddly quiescent and calm, but the lower half invites the viewer to a different story: is there a diabolical spirit behind the innocence of the player’s demeanour? With masterful tonal gradations and a palette typical of his best works, this painting represents Mohasses’s brilliant imagination and satire.

"With a background as theatre director, Mohasses dramatizes the placement of his figures as if on a stage. His ‘set designs’ with his paintings are devised for maximum effect. The male or female torsos invade the canvas entirely.  However this feature does not reflect oppression by the ‘uber-mensch’ wielding power and superiority; rather, quite contrary to an oppressor, the magnified central figure reflects a vast loneliness and terrible brokenness.  This human figure closes in on us, until it is up close – so close that it speaks to us with details of its skin, flesh, blood, of today's fractured human being that no longer belongs anywhere. His horizons speak of a nameless land that hosts the presence of people in different poses: sitting or lying down, solitary or mingling with others, depressed or incensed, flaunting or irrelevant.

In his paintings, first we see solitary figures from the depths of early mythology to the present day, then we witness the appearance of pairs and dualistic themes; next, there are robot-like figures that fare enslaved to machinery – in certain places controlling it, in others at its mercy. The artist’s method is to inflate the situation into a meaningful expressionism – where human figures, birds, and other creatures are constructed as a unit, in a mathematically symmetrical way, with geometric proportions  within simplified compositions of defined planes, lines and tonal proximity. The theatre director in him steps beyond the temporal and frees himself from me, space, species and their limitations; he is freed of compass-points and specificities. Yet through his artistic genius, the figures appear more alive and universal than reality, away from social and moral contracts, from ties of nationality, identity and destiny – part of that freedom which only art can supply. This space however, is not a romantic one. His human figures that have travelled from mythology to the present with life, pain, anguish and weariness; they are broken, and their fragile being trapped as they strive desperately to regain the comfort that was their right but of which they have been robbed."

Extract from the article by Javad Mojaabi, from Ninety Years of Innovation in Iranian Art History, 2014