Sohrab Sepehri (Iran, 1928-1980) Untitled

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Lot 418
Sohrab Sepehri
(Iran, 1928-1980)
£ 120,000 - 150,000
US$ 160,000 - 200,000

Lot Details
Sohrab Sepehri (Iran, 1928-1980) Untitled Sohrab Sepehri (Iran, 1928-1980) Untitled Sohrab Sepehri (Iran, 1928-1980) Untitled
Sohrab Sepehri (Iran, 1928-1980)
oil on canvas, framed
signed in Farsi (lower right), executed in 1971
100 x 60cm (39 3/8 x 23 5/8in).


  • "I dread the cement-face of this century.
    Come, so I may not fear cities
    where the black earth is pasture to cranes.
    In this era of steel's rise, open me like a gate
    on the fall of pears.
    Lull me to sleep beneath a branch
    far from the nocturnal grinding of metals
    and wake me only if someone comes
    who can unearth the ore of daylight.
    Like jasmine emerging from behind your hands
    I will wake up.
    Only then..." - Sohrab Sepehri, The Way to the Orchard

    Property from a private collection, New York
    Acquired directly from the artist by Dr Hassan Kamshad in Iran in 1971 and gifted to his son Mr Morid Kamshad

    The present lot is a distinguished and exceptional example from Sohrab Sepehri's celebrated Tree series, and is one of the finest to come to public auction. The painting carries with it an impeccable provenance; having been acquired from the artist by his close friend, the renowned scholar and translator of Persian literature, Dr Hassan Kamshad, in Iran in 1971, and having been kept within his family ever since.

    Poet, artist and intellectual, Sepehri's mild manner and withdrawn persona belied the richness of expression manifest in his works. Enraptured by nature, Sepehri had a deep and profound attachment to the topography of his native Kashan, the "oasis city" where trees and vegetation sprung amidst the arid desert. The genesis of Sepehri's work was firmly rooted in this landscape, and he often bemoaned the long periods of absence from Kashan he had to endure when exhibiting and working abroad. It is during one such excursion in 1970 when Sepehri expressed in a letter to his close friend Ahmad Reza Ahmadi that he felt "desperately alone in the city with no birds and no trees", and it is amidst this pining that the present series was first conceived.

    Sepeheri had a firm belief in the inherent grace and nobility of the nature he so admired. Inspired by Eastern traditions, with which he had direct contact during travels in India and Japan, Sepehri came to see the purity of the natural world as an antidote to the corruption of the human condition. Removed from the sphere of urban tumult, an unblemished natural world exhibited order, harmony and simplicity. Sepehri's focus however, fell on perhaps natures most visually striking and symbolically potent inhabitant; the tree. Monolithic, life-exuding, and perpetual, the tree is both the ultimate example of the force of nature, and its symbolic focal point, harbouring all four elements of life; soil within its roots, water within its ducts, expelling life giving oxygen and providing the fuel for fire, its form and significance gripped Sepehri's creative faculties.

    Sepehri's choice in depicting this singular archetype of nature derives from his belief in the beauty of the concise. Zen tradition encourages the shedding of excess and the absence of the superfluous, to this end Sepehri depicts only trunks, for he was no realist, and was concerned more with the meaning of a tree, its aesthetic essence, than construing its actual physical occurrence in a specified landscape.

    Combined with this, he employs a limited palette, consisting of coloured grays and dark greens. The limiting of colour to an absolute minimum is a conscious exercise in terseness, echoing the formal restraints of the Zen haiku which are limited to seventeen syllables, and reflecting Sepehri's belief that economy in color resulted in greater artistic lucidity. Despite this terse palette, Sepehri manages to faithfully capture the texture, complexity and light and dark tonal variations between his tree trunks, delineating gracefully where trunks and branches engage, interlope and separate.

    Ultimately, for Sepehri, the depiction of a tree was a meditative endeavour, in the Japanese tradition of "hitsuzendo", an attempt at creative self reflection. Unlike Western traditions where the artist uses his faculties to fashion a work into existence, the Zen painting tradition holds that the "man the art and the work are all one".

    Flawlessly executed, the present work is not only superlative in its composition, but serves as one of a small number of works within the Tree series conceived in a vertical orientation, a format which echoes the contour of the trees and one where their immediacy, impact, and stature are best appreciated.

    Archetypal, exemplary and sublime, the present painting is a work that is truly deserving of the title, "best of breed"

    Yaghoub Emdadian, A Retrospective Exhibition of Works of Sohrab Sepehri, Institute for Promotion of Contemporary Visual Arts, Iran, 2011
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  1. Nima Sagharchi
    Specialist - Modern and Contemporary Middle Eastern Art
    101 New Bond Street
    London, United Kingdom W1S 1SR
    Work +44 20 7468 8342
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