Sotheby’s has unveiled a painting by prominent Iranian contemporary artist Bahman Mohasses titled Personaggio I (1968) that will be offered at auction this fall. The painting will be sold during the house’s upcoming online modern and contemporary Middle Eastern art sale with bidding open from October 20 to 27. It is expected to achieve a price between £60,000-£90,000 ($90,000-$117,000).
First owned by former U.S. vice president Nelson Rockefeller, who acquired it in the mid-1970s, the piece is now being sold by its second private owner, East coast collectors Emily and Richard Spaulding.
Mohasses’s provocative style takes cues from Pablo Picasso, Henry Moore and Alberto Giacometti; his anthropomorphic figures have been compared to Francis Bacon’s. Long known as a recluse, he moved to Rome in the 1950s following an American-backed coup ousting Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh. In Italy, exposure to 20th-century modern art movements such as Cubism and Surrealism would come to influence his practice.
His market has seen growth in recent years following institutional attention. In 2014, he was included in the Musee d’Art Moderne, Paris exhibition “Unedited History.” That same year, the Tate Modern acquired a group of five 1966 gouache paintings depicting his signature sculpture-like faceless head. In 2017, long unseen works by Bacon and Mohasses, both openly gay artists, from the permanent collection of the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art were showcased publicly in Iran’s capital.
Rare on the market, works by Mohasses from the 1960-70s have seen rising prices. In 2017, another 1968 canvas, Requiem Omnibus (Death of Martin Luther King), a macabre figurative painting made in reaction to the death of the civil rights leader sold for $755,000, setting a record price for the artist. In April 2018, Sotheby’s sold The Minotaur Scares the Good People (1966), a scene compared to Picasso’s Minotaur and Dead Mare in Front of Cave (1936) for £549,000 ($710,00). It surpassed the estimate of £280,000-350,000 ($362,000-$452,000). His Elmo Antico-Ancient Helmet (1969), which features a similar scheme to the present work, sold at Sotheby’s London in 2019 for £150,000 ($194,000).
Other top lots in the auction include Egyptian artist Mokhtar’s bronze figurative work Au bord du Nil (1931-39) estimated at £150,000-200,000 ($195,000-$260,000). A painting by Mohamed Melehi featuring his recognizable graphic arabasque motif in bold red, green and blue from 1970-1 is estimated at £60,000-80,000 ($77,000-$103,000). Recently, Melehi saw a new auction record, when Sotheby’s sold his 1963 painting The Blacks for £399,000 ($516,204) in March.
The sale also includes 13 works of Modern Iranian art from the 1960s from the collection of Sheila and Eric Azari with examples by modernists Sohrab Sepehri and Massoud Arabshahi. Works by Hassan Qaemi and Fereydoun Rahimi-Assa from the Azari collection will also mark the artists’ auction debuts.
The works will be available on public view at Sotheby’s London headquarters on October 24.