Manoucher Yektai (Iran, born 1922) Portrait of Iris Clert

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Lot 72
Manoucher Yektai
(Iran, born 1922)
Portrait of Iris Clert

Sold for £ 182,500 (US$ 250,810) inc. premium
Manoucher Yektai (Iran, born 1922)
Portrait of Iris Clert
oil on canvas
signed "Yektai 60" (lower left), executed in 1960, the verso bearing an exhibition stamp from the Musée d'Art et d'Histoire, Genève
195 x 250cm (76 3/4 x 98 7/16in).


  • Provenance:
    Property from a private collection, London
    Formerly in the Theodore Ahrenberg Collection, Chexbres

    Paris, Galerie Iris Clert, Iris Clert Portraits, 1961

    Literature :
    Genève, Musée Rath (Musée d'Art et d'Histoire), Le Visage de l'Homme dans l'Art Contemporain, 1967, n.106

    """"This is a portrait of Iris Clert if I say so"""" - Robert Rauschenberg

    """""""Yektai wanted to render us conscious of our existence from second to second, of the joy of breathing, of the rapid changes of things."""""""" – John Ashberry

    The Artist: Manucherh Yektai

    Bonhams have the rare privilege of presenting the most exquisite and significant work by Manucherh Yektai ever to be offered at public auction. Monumental, powerful and enigmatic "Portrait of Iris Clert" counts as a milestone work in artistic development of one of international Modernisms most talented protagonists.

    Depicting the colourful and exuberant Parisian gallerist Iris Clert, the painting was first exhibited in 1961 in Paris alongside works by Lucio Fontana, Robert Rauschenberg, Yves Klein and Arman all of whom showcased their esoteric portraits of the famous gallery owner.

    The work later surfaced in 1967 at the Musée Rath in Geneva, participating exhibition entitled "Le Visage de l'Homme dans l'Art Contemporain". It has since been in in private hands and comes to the market for the first time since its original exhibition in 1961.

    Born in Tehran, Yektai is considered one of the unsung founders of the New York School of Abstract Expressionism. Between 1945 and 1947, he studied with Amédée Ozenfant in Paris, France, and later in New York City.

    In 1951 and 1952 Leo Castelli brought some friends, including early Abstract-Expressionist painters, to see Yektai's New York exhibitions shows . Castelli introduced him to the 8th Street Club in 1951 and he soon became a friend of Rothko,Tobey, Guston, and others. In the mid-1950S he was included in classic group exhibitions of early Abstract-Expressionism at the Stable Gallery and elsewhere, with older generationl artists such as DeKooning, Pollock, Newman, and Kline. From 1957 till 1965 he showed at Poindexter.With this background it would be easy to regard Yektai as a member - almost a founding member - of the New York School

    Portrait of Iris Clert: The Apotheosis of Yektai

    Conceptually and stylistically, the present work is a fascinating example of the very subtle sense of tension between naturalism and abstraction manifest in Yektais work. Firmly established as one of the founding members of the New York School of Abstract Expressionism, Yektai's work was shaped and informed by his artistic milleu: luminaries such as Rothko, Pollock, De Kooning and Kline.

    It is notable however that throughout his work the submission to abstraction is never complete, and that the artists love and appreciation of tangible forms ensures a strong presence of naturalism in his compositions. Yektai;s desire not to forsake the identity of his surroundings, ultimately, his attachment to natural forms would not grant abstraction a total victory, and it is in this tension, most overtly manifest in portraiture, that his artistic sincerity is most deeply revealed.

    In composition and technique, "Portrait of Iris Clert" is a unique blend of the artists dramatic gestural style and the influence of 20th century European portraiture, and in particular the palette and textural quality of post-impressionists like Cezanne and Toulouse Lautrec. Demure yet empathetic, bold in execution but restrained in its stature and anatomy, "Portrait of Iris Clert" in some ways recalls the sombre portraiture of Lautrec, with its linear, exaggerated strokes giving emphasis to contour over detail, and the distinct gaps between brush-strokes evoking the freedom and spontaneity of drawing.

    The Subject: Iris Clert

    Iris Clert was a captivating and colourful art dealer whose eponymous gallery became one of the focal points of the post-war Parisian avant-garde. Clert's Paris gallery exhibited many of the most successful, illustrious and provocative artists of the 1950s and 1960s, especially those who were associated with Nouveau Réalisme. Pablo Picasso, Max Ernst, Yves Klein, Lucio Fontana and Manucherh Yektai himself are just a few among the retinue of talents to have exhibited at Clert's gallery during this period.

    A flamboyant figure, said to have had powerful political connections, she was noted for courting controversy by staging some of the most avant garde and eccentric exhibitions of the time, such as Yves Klein's Le Vide, a completely empty space, and Arman's 1960 response Le Plein, in which the gallery was entirely filled with rubbish and impossible to enter. During one opening night, Yves Klein performed for the first time his Monotone Symphony (1949, formally The Monotone-Silence Symphony), a 40-minute orchestral piece consisting of a single 20-minute sustained chord followed by a 20-minute silence. This performance was followed by the release of 1,001 blue balloons into the sky, as a symbolic gesture by Klein which he called "aerostatic sculpture."

    Capitalising on her growing public profile and increased prominence in the Paris art scene, in 1961, Iris Clert embarked on the ultimate vanity project, submitting an open invitation for prominent artists of the day to submit portraits of her for a group exhibition . Prominent French Noveau Realiste' artist Arman's portrait consisted of a wall-mounted box filled with various affects taken from Clert's daily life: a high-heel shoe, a personal photograph, lipstick, and various bits of other rubbish. The other notable portraits were done by Lucio Fontana and Robert Rauschenberg. Rauschenberg sent a telegram to the gallery declaring "This is a portrait of Iris Clert if I say so." The "portrait" was initially thrown away, but was later salvaged from the garbage, albeit crumpled up a bit, and put on display.

    With its grand gestural style and painterly exuberance, Yektai's portrait created a stark visual contrast with the conceptual and provocative work submitted by the abstract artists participating in the exhibition. Its survival as one of the few documentented and subsequently exhibited works from this seminal exhibition marks it not only as one of the most historically important, but also most artistically accomplished of Yektai's works.
Manoucher Yektai (Iran, born 1922) Portrait of Iris Clert
Manoucher Yektai (Iran, born 1922) Portrait of Iris Clert
Manoucher Yektai (Iran, born 1922) Portrait of Iris Clert
Manoucher Yektai (Iran, born 1922) Portrait of Iris Clert
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