Lot 10
  • 10

Sohrab Sepehri

220,000 - 280,000 GBP
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  • Sohrab Sepehri
  • Untitled (From the Tree Trunk Series) 
  • signed and dated Sepehri '72
  • oil on canvas 
  • 97 by 126cm.; 38 1/8 by 49 1/2 in.


Collection of Ali Ashgar Petgar, Tehran (acquired directly from the artist in the 1970s)
Private Collection, Tehran
Private Collection, London (acquired directly from the above in 1982)
Sale: Christie's Dubai, Modern and Contemporary Arab, Iranian and Turkish Art; Part I, 23 October 2012, lot 9
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 2012


Condition: This work is in very good condition. A pinhole size paint loss to the upper center. Some horizontal scratches across the center, inherent to the artists creative process (first layer of paint applied). Some fainted varnish marks alongside the bottom edge of the canvas. The painting could benefit a overall surface clean and some re-varnishing. The canvas is well stretched. No signs of restoration under the UV light. Colours: The colours in the catalogue illustration are accurate.
"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

Poet and painter Sohrab Sepehri, born in 1928 in the desert town of Kashan, is probably one of the most recognizable and treasured of all the Iranian modern masters.  He attended the Fine Arts College of Tehran University in 1948 graduating with honours in 1953, and by 1957 - a year before Iran's first Biennial- he left for France to join the École de Beaux-Arts in Paris. His works were included in the first and second Tehran Biennials and soon after his move to Rome, he also showed at the Venice Biennale in 1958. Sepehri eventually went to Japan in 1960 to study wood engraving. Having shown at the São Paolo Biennal in 1963, he also exhibited at Le Havre in France. By 1970 he was well-travelled, after taking extensive trips to the East and Far East and visiting India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. During this period his works were also part of a group show in Bridgehampton City, followed by a solo show in New York City. Respected and cherished by all for his beautiful poetry and art, Sepehri died in Tehran in 1979.

A reclusive, humble, solitary figure, Sepehri rarely gave interviews; it was as if he only spoke through his extensive body of poetic and artistic works. He was known for his passionate love of nature, especially of the desert around his native Kashan. His work is a testament to a repeated desire to return to the solace of his homeland's colours and inspiration. The Zen-like ambiance of his Tree series, while undoubtedly influenced by what he had seen and learned in Japan, relate to the same spirituality and meditativeness of the desert. As a child he was known to love birds, animals, flowers, nature, outdoors - all the themes he brings into his paintings, as though with repetition he gives them life. He never painted people but to him humanity is a part of nature, not separate from it. His compositions, deceptively simple and effortless, are the result of a highly sophisticated selective eye which had become adept at reducing any depiction to its most essential elements. At work, he was often known to squint while painting, as if to blur and reduce his field of vision. The clarity and translucence of some of his gouaches, or the dilution of an overlaying coat of paint, are all techniques which require great skill and experience.

His technique often involved rapid brushstrokes on a wet canvas, using earth-tone colours - the colours of his beloved desert - burnt ochre, shades of brown, grey, yellow, interspersed with a sudden dash of bright red or other primary colour in contrast. His 'negative spaces' stem from the same Zen-like meditation on canvas; using the whole canvas as an unlimited space which he could exceed, what he did not include was as significant as what is present.  This is especially true in the Tree Series, where the rhythm of the trees and their reference to a thick forest beyond the canvas is highly effective next to the silence of an empty foreground. Simplicity of composition and reduction of detail to its most meaningful denominator can only be achieved by a master. These are characteristics of Sepehri's work at its best - an artist who persisted at his craft, and whose phases of output left us with some enduring masterpieces, now rivalling Western modern masters in terms of value on the international art market.

Profoundly influenced by Oriental philosophies, Sepehri combined a spiritual inclination with a strong understanding of Persian art and culture.  He treated natural phenomena and the wonder of everyday nature such as tree trunks, with awe and enchantment. Sotheby's is proud to present an iconic work by this exceptional artist from his Tree Series, 1972 in which he uses a rare green, brown and grey palette with a strong compositional structure.  Drawing the eye from the corner where his painting starts, across to the middle of the canvas, the artist creates a sense of openness by balancing a group of trunks without any empty space to imbue an effect of peacefulness. Rich in detail, sharp in its execution,  lofty and beautifully textured, this particular work which has been in prestigious collections since its creation is a one of a kind work by the artist.