Works by modern Iranian masters including Bahman Mohasses, Monir Farmanfarmaian, and Manoucher Yektai are coming up for auction at Sotheby’s London on April 24.
Part of a sale of 20th-century Iranian, Arab and Turkish works, they will go on public display in an exhibition at Sotheby’s opening April 20.
The sale features two works by Mohasses, who is known as the “Persian Picasso.” They are “The Minotaur Scares the Good People,” a 1966 oil painting (estimated at between 280,000 and 350,000 pounds); and “Sitting Minotaur,” a 1972 bronze sculpture (estimated at between 20,000 and 30,000 pounds).
The avant-garde painting, one of the rarest Mohasses works to appear at auction, represents a group of half-human, half-beast creatures. It is also one of the very few works by the artist to contain as many detailed figures.
“It is a highly charged representation of the artist’s lifetime grappling with demons of alienation, loneliness and disenfranchisement,” said Sotheby’s. “Filled with movement, anguish and despair, the composition brings to mind both Pablo Picasso’s renowned series on the Minotaur and Francis Bacon’s anthropomorphic figures.”
Mohasses is regarded as Iran’s most prominent artist of the past century. Born in Rasht, northern Iran, in 1931, he left Iran for Rome after the 1953 overthrow of Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh, and became one of the very first Iranian students to enroll at the Art Academy. There, he became exposed to Cubism and Surrealism, and his art soon reflected those influences.
Having returned to his homeland for a few years, the artist settled more or less permanently in Rome from 1968. Living for decades in a hotel, he was a reclusive and mysterious figure, and made a habit of destroying his paintings and sculptures. On a trip to Tehran in 2006, he destroyed many of the works still remaining in his atelier there; other large-scale sculptures that had been commissioned for public squares in Iran in the 1960s were destroyed during the Islamic Revolution. Mohasses died in Rome in 2010.
The Sotheby’s sale also features “Recollection I,” a mirror mosaic by the artist Monir Farmanfarmaian from 2008 (estimated at between 160,000 and 200,000 pounds). The center of the mosaic is decorated with two medallions of reverse-glass paintings of flowers, reminiscent of the Persian Gol-o-Bolbol (‘flower and nightingale’) designs of the Safavid and Qajar periods.
“Each of these forms has thousands and thousands of ways to see it,” the artist explains. “Mirrors are a reflection of anything and everything. You become part of that mirror. It is communication – the mirror and yourself, the piece of art and yourself.”
Now aged 95, Farmanfarmaian, the doyenne of Iranian art — a onetime friend of Andy Warhol, Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning — is the first female artist with a museum dedicated exclusively to her works in Iran. Opened in December 2017 in a former Qajar-era palace in Tehran’s Negarestan park gardens, the Monir Museum displays 51 works, including her signature mirror mosaics, abstract monotypes, and reverse-glass paintings, inspired by geometric patterns found in traditional Iranian architecture.
Monir’s love of mirror work originated during an early 1970s visit with the American artist Robert Morris to the Shah Cheragh Mosque in Shiraz. The mosque’s interiors were entirely covered with carved mirror fragments, and the artist secretly wished she could cut a piece of the mirror work off the wall and take it home for her own private contemplation. She decided to make her own mirror pieces, and invented a very personal art form in the process.
The Sotheby’s sale also features an oil painting by Manoucher Yektai, the 1969 “Untitled (Still Life with Pineapple)” (estimated at 55,000 to 70,000 pounds) and another by Sohrab Sepehri, “Untitled (Tree Trunks and Village Scene)” from circa 1972 (estimated at between 200,000 pounds and 300,000 pounds).