Raised in a privileged home, granddaughter of Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh, she was educated first at Ladies’ Cheltenham College, and later at the Slade School of Art in England. Upon her return to Iran, she taught sculpture for five years at the Fine Arts Faculty of Tehran University, and produced art works that found their way first into group shows and later into independent exhibitions. Her still-life paintings were iconic: pared down to bare essentials, they exude a stylized and formalistic sense of being – defying conventions; yet imposing their own. Flat painting, colour blocks and clear outlines gave child-like impressions of a highly sophisticated artist. As Picasso once said, “it takes a life-time to learn to paint like a child.” So it is that Leyly’s work, while immediate and accessible, also belies a huge talent and practiced approach. In eliminating certain details, she leads the viewer to the essence of her subject. Her portraits, reduced to minimalistic features and outlines of her subject, nevertheless have an uncanny ability to capture the soul of her sitter. Emami likened her works to illustrations in children’s books: full of wisdom, symbolism and story-telling. She used this technique to great effect in creating posters for the Shiraz Arts Festival and other occasions where she celebrated the story of the Persian new year (Norouz) and its Haft Seen.
Sotheby’s is proud to present one of Leyly’s most sought-after still-life from her first solo show at the Galerie Borghese, Tehran. The show itself had met with great acclaim; critics hailed the works as ground-breaking – devoid of artifice, entirely based on purity of perception, directness and truthfulness. She was seen as an ‘original’; a path-breaker with no desire to blindly follow or imitate. This was rare, in an era where other artists were either consciously and vocally highlighting their own heritage, or else bringing back fruits of their training from abroad. Leyly did neither of these things – a curiously brave decision in a man’s world. One critic delighted in the fact that there was no ‘ism’ in her work, and praised her quiet, humble approach.
This particular still-life, favouring a cool palette of colours instead of the later warm hues, projects an elegance and quietude reminiscent of Morandi. There is a sense of calm and order that emanates from the confident colour-blocking and pleasing divisions in the composition. The artist displays a masterful command of space, a semi-abstract depiction of everyday objects such as bottles within a dream-like space which appears reassuring and restful. Leyly’s canvases, as sophisticated and primal as they are, are also eminently decorative and playful, projecting a child-like universe that beckons, inviting us to join her on her beautiful artistic journey. With an exceptional provenance, and a very early date this painting is a rare and unique opportunity to acquire a timeless work that typifies the height of the artist’s stylistic achievements.
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