William Avar - Surrealist painter with a brilliant palette

Stockholms Auktionsverk is delighted to be selling a unique collection of art by William Avar (Sedeh, Iran 1917–2012, Stockholm) featuring works from the 1960s to the 1990s. Viewing, 31 March–7 April at Nybrogatan 32, Stockholm, and online auction on 7 April.

William Avar, L'amour entre le soleil et la vierge (Beskuren - Cropped)

William Djalal Avar (Sedeh, Iran 1917–2012 Stockholm) studied at L’Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris in the 1940s. In 1948 he visited Stockholm at the invitation of Zarah Leander (1907–1981), the singer and actress whose acquaintance he had made in St. Moritz, Switzerland. William Avar later took up full-time residence in Stockholm where he met Anna-Lisa – who was later to become his wife. He was one of the first Iranian nationals to settle in Sweden.

During the 1950s and 1960s Avar studied periodically at Otto Sköld’s Painting School. In parallel with developing his art, he worked hard as a businessman and through his family’s contacts with the Shah of Iran, he devoted a period of his life to importing and exporting goods between Sweden and Iran. He held his first exhibition in Istanbul in 1945, followed by others in Berlin (1950) and Torremolinos (1956). During the 1960s he participated in group exhibitions at the Galerie S. T. Mir on Rhodes, and at the Galerie A and Galerie Cazires Morgan in Stockholm. In 1970 he held his last and largest exhibition at the Petit Palais Museum in Geneva. Sven-Olof Rosén, Professor at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Stockholm, wrote in the exhibition catalogue (Geneva, Petit Palais, Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris, William Avar, 29 October–29 November 1970):

”William Avar a surtout peint en Suède où il vit depuis 25 ans. L’oeuvre de cet artiste cosmopolite relève du surréalisme et conserve un caractère international. Le surréalisme dans l’art pictural est très ancien, sporadiquement il apparaît  dans l’évolution de l’histoire de la peinture lors de périodes très différentes mais avec un dénominateur commun: le passage, au-delà du réel, dans le monde de l’imaginaire. William Avar possède un coloris brilliant qu’il sait adapter au sujet; homme ou paysage. D’une manière très personnelle, il évoque l’simmuable destinée humaine.”

(“William Avar has painted primarily in Sweden since setting up home there 25 years ago. The work of this cosmopolitan artist is distinguished by surrealism and maintains an international slant. Surrealism in pictorial art is an old phenomenon that appears sporadically during the development of painting in widely disparate periods of style, but with one and the same denominator: the transfer to the world of fantasy, beyond reality. William Avar possesses a genius for colouring, which he is skilled at adapting to the motif – be it a person or a landscape. In an intensely personal manner, he touches on the unchangeable fate of man.”)

In a review of the exhibition in Lettres arts, 1970, Raymond Berger noted:

 “On éprouve parfois quelques craintes, à l'approche d’un peintre surréaliste, de devoir constater que l’artiste a cédé à la facilité d’un souci avant tout d’esthéthisme, aidé d’autre part d’une de technique emplie de précision. Rien de tel chez William Avar, qui nous présente un œuvre d’une rare authenticité. Chacune de ses toiles est le témoignage d’une profonde réflexion d’un homme sur lui-même. Ne faut-il pas un courage certain pour demander à prendre possession entière de cette  « minute de silence», se livrer  alors à une  analyse percutante de son être, et ensuite sur la toile, le miroir,  le fruit de ses pensées? Ou bien alors une inclinaison naturelle et irresstible! / «Croire à la vie éternelle, ca n’est pas  forcément  croire  qu’il y a le moindre trait commun entre ce qui est réellement et les représentations  que notre antropomorphisme enfanta.» Cette phrase extraite du dernier bloc-notes de Francois Mauriac, paru au «Figaro littéraire», résume  de facon éclatante la représentation picturale du problème de la mort  et de l’au-delà, qui domine l’œuvre exposé. Arrêtons-nous, en effet, devant cette importante toile: «Le Départ  de l’Ame», ou le peintre nous confie l’instant précis entre la vie et la mort, le moment suprême ou la vie n´a pas encore quitté  l’univers terrestre, et ou l’âmé  s’en délache. Visage ou se lit  déjà à moitié le détachement  dernier,  corps affalé, en  double, puis jaillissement d’une flamme informe et torturée, âme de la défunte. / Alors, et si finalement  l’œuvre de Wiliam Avar tend à allumer quelque espoir,  n’est-il pas préférable de le retrouver dans l’éclaircie dans cette déchirure infime,  trouant le bleau lisse, lumineaux et terriblement  «dur» du ciel de presque chacune  de ses toiles? Un mot également pour louer une technique rigoureuse, un esprit sensible, á  l’expression  raffinée. / Une visite de cette exposition s’impose.”

(“When you approach a surrealist painter, you are occasionally struck with doubt and obliged to concede that the artist has chosen to walk the simplest path, partly for aesthetic reasons, but also with the assistance of a precise technique. Nothing of this kind is discernible in the art of William Avar, who presents work distinguished by a seldom-seen authenticity. Each and every one of his canvases bears witness to one man’s in-depth analysis of himself. Does it not demand a certain measure of courage to dare to have the will to take complete possession of this ‘quiet minute’ and immerse oneself in an overwhelming analysis of one’s being – and then transfer to the canvas, the mirror, the fruits of one’s thoughts? Or perhaps it is a purely natural and irresistible inclination! / “To believe in eternal life is not necessarily to believe there is even the tiniest link between what really exits, and the representations of what our anthropomorphism creates.” This sentence, which was published in Figaro littéraire and stems from the final notes of François Mauriac, brilliantly summarises the visual representation of the issue of death and life thereafter which dominates the works exhibited here. Let us pause for a moment before this significant canvas: Le Départ de l’Âme, where the artist entrusts us with the exact intersection between life and death, the enlightened moment when life has not completely left the mortal body, and where the soul is separating. We see a face in which you can already read the absence of the latter, a shrunken, doubled-up body, the movement of an irregular and tormented flame of fire representing the soul of the departed. In direct contrast to this, however, La Main de Dieu clearly, precisely and consciously communicates the impression of a present God. /  But if, finally, William Avar’s work attempts to ignite a spark of hope, it is principally to be found in the small, bright opening that cuts through the smooth, clear and frighteningly hard blue sky that is to be found in almost all his canvases. Yet another way of uniting finely honed technique, a sensitive soul and a refined expression. A visit to this exhibition is an absolute must.”)

And in a long review of the exhibition in Journal Francais, 1970, C. Delarme writes:

“William Avar est d’origin Sédeh en Iran et vit en Suède depuis environ 28 ans. Cependent, dans sa peinture, aucuns trace évidente d’une culture orientale, aucun symoble typique appartenant à son pays d’adoption. Les sujets se créent comme des ondes une fois la pierre de l’imaginaire lancée contre la toile blanche.  / Partout, le ciel. Un ciel sans nuage d’un bleau profond de Prusse régulièrement percé d’une boutonnière,un oeil retourné à l’intérieur de l’infini, une miniscule fenêtre dont le regard se détorne de la composition pour s’ouvrir sur le blanc de la toile comme sur le vide.”

(“Originally from Sedeh in Iran, William Avar has lived in Sweden for around 28 years. In spite of this, his work presents no features that can clearly be traced back to Oriental culture, nor any symbols that can be immediately linked to his new home country. The motif emerges as waves as soon as the imaginary dice are cast against the pure white canvas. / Above all, the sky. A cloudless, Prussian deep blue sky, often pierced by a buttonhole, an eye turned towards the inside of the infinite, a tiny little window that draws the attention away from the composition and allows it to open up towards the whiteness of the canvas as towards nothingness itself.”)

The “Prussian deep blue sky” referred to in the above review – so notable in William Avar’s paintings of the 1960s - can, in the work itself, serve as the link in his art that unites his Iranian background with his impression of his new home country. In the Nordic region, dusk – known as “the blue hour” – in the autumn and winter months, is just as intense a deep blue as the year-round dawn and dusk light of the Orient.

Works by William Avar are to be found in private collections all over the world. There is a painting representing his oeuvre of the 1960s at the Fine Art Museum in Saadabad Palace, Tehran, the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi’s private collection (fig. 1). The painting was acquired in 1970 by his wife, Farah, née Diba.

To catalogue