Lot 58
  • 58

Bahman Mohasses

180,000 - 250,000 USD
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  • Bahman Mohasses
  • Untitled
  • signed and dated B.Mohasses '66; signed and dated on the reverse in Farsi twice 
  • oil on canvas 
  • 100 by 70cm.; 39 3/8 by 27 1/2 in.


Private Collection, Germany (acquired directly from the artist in the 1970s)
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 2016 


Condition: This work is in overall very good condition. Some circular hairline craquelure across the canvas, in line with the artist's painting process and age of the painting. A thin layer of dust can be noticed upon closer inspection.The canvas is well lined, some pinhole sized paint loss to the upper left corner edge, lower left area, and lower centre axis. No signs of restoration under the UV light. Colours: The colour in the catalogue illustration are accurate, with the overall tonality being softer in the original work.
"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

Sotheby’s is honoured to present a seminal work by the celebrated Iranian artist Bahman Mohasses. Painted in 1966, Untitled is an outstanding example of the artist’s work from a period that marks a turning point in his style; a period which has consequently become one of the most highly sought-after amongst private collectors and institutions alike. While Mohasses’ entire oeuvre is imbibed with the artist’s singular flair for depicting raw feeling, his work from the 1960s has held a particular fascination for the discerning eye due to its depth of expression and its chilling host of quasi-mythological characters. The mid 1960s also mark a period where Mohasses had a stronger "faith" in painting and the weight it carried in a society that was going through a radical cultural shift. This was the swan song of the bohemian Iranian avant-garde movement initiated by Jalil Ziapour before more structured platforms for artists were created by the government. In brief, the mid 1960s to the early 1970s was a prolific period for the artist especially since he was also surrounded by high-spirited intellectuals and artists such as Ebrahim Golestan, Vincenzo Bianchini and Mehrdad Samadi. 

Born in 1931 in Rasht, Mohasses fled Iran after the coup against Prime Minister Mossadegh and settled in Rome in 1954. One of the first Iranian students to attend the Accademia di Belle Arti di Roma, Mohasses found himself in one of the great centres of European classicism. Spending much of his life between Italy and Iran, the artist drew inspiration from the mythological cast of classical Roman statuary, the formal preoccupations of Renaissance sculpture and the surrealist and expressionist practices of post-war Italian modernism. He also remained however, inextricably linked to the vibrant but politically volatile landscape of his native Iran.

It was this tension between his birthplace and his adopted European home which seemed to form the basis of his work as an artist. He was influenced by Marino Marini and Giorgio Morandi, and particularly respected their considered use of impasto and often austere yet painterly perspectives. The sinewy torsion of bodies in Mohasses’ work also makes evident the influence of Francis Bacon, whose probing exploration of the human condition through the lens of the body finds an echo in the truncated, deformed extremities of the present work. Mohasses devotes an almost Michelangelo-like attention to musculature but with an ostensibly different objective: this is a myth more Barthesian than Greek, one that describes a daily ontological struggle more than any storied paradigm of strength and ideal beauty. The artist’s unique form of chiaroscuro confers depth, volume and heaviness to the foregrounded limbs, while the notable lack of hands or feet speaks to a feeling of rootlessness and displacement. This lack of anchorage and dexterity was an experience lived by Mohasses himself, who often felt alienated and helpless in a world ravaged by political conflict and cultural adversity.

Untitled is a haunting composition almost entirely occupied by a contorted white figure, who sits in a blue-grey marine landscape. There is an unmistakeable resonance with Picasso’s Bathers series from the late 1930s, yet those sensuous, playful configurations find themselves inevitably transformed here under Mohasses’ unyielding brush. Picasso’s azure, Cycladic clarity is replaced with a darker picture where liminality is thematised rather than described. There is a precarity inherent to the staging of the protagonist, who is caught between the inescapable gaze of the viewer and the hostile opacity of the blue seascape behind. The artist creates a surprising amalgam of great strength and profound vulnerability in this central figure who is physically powerful, but seems to cower in shame or fear, facing away from the essentially voyeuristic eyes of the viewer.

The present work rivals Requiem Omnibus (1968), sold at Sotheby’s in April 2017, in terms of quality, historicism and rarity at public auction. The provenance of the work is also particularly noteworthy in that the previous owner worked in the office of the Empress Farah Diba at the Niavaran Complex in Tehran. The Empress was herself a great admirer of Mohasses; she and her husband Reza Shah Pahlavi gave the artist several commissions during this period. The visceral, extraordinary power of the present work coupled with its historic pedigree make certain that it is undeniably a collector’s piece.