Lot 133
  • 133

A portrait of Nasir al-Din Shah, attributable to Muhammad Hasan Afshar, Persia, Qajar, mid-19th century

60,000 - 80,000 GBP
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  • oil on canvas
  • 117.2 by 78.8cm.
oil on canvas, figure cut out and applied to later background

Catalogue Note

Muhammad Hasan Afshar Urumieh enjoyed a remarkably long career (1818-78) that spanned the reigns of three rulers: Fath ‘Ali Shah, Muhammad Shah and Nasir al-Din Shah, the sitter of this portrait. The style of his renowned large-scale portraits evolved throughout his career, from a traditional style favoured in the court of Fath ‘Ali Shah, to the European influence detected in the present portrait. This influence arose from European artworks entering Iran as a result of increased travel among the elite between the two regions. The most prominent European features in Afshar’s artistic repertoire are drawn from early nineteenth century Tabriz and Georgian painting, suggesting that he received his early training in Azerbaijan (Diba and Ekhtiar 1998, p.225).

A sombre colour palette dominates this portrait, as opposed to the richly coloured and heavily stylised aesthetic favoured by Afshar’s predecessors. The deep black of Nasir al-Din Shah’s robes creates a striking contrast with the diamonds of his epaulettes and aigrette, an effect that resembles a portrait in the Louvre (Museum no. MV 6700) completed by Afshar of Muhammad Shah (published in Diba and Ekhtiar 1998, p.224). Furthermore, the intense detail of his jewellery creates a texture that almost sparkles on the canvas- a luxury reflected in the rich red colour of the chair.

A photograph of Nasir al-Din Shah provides evidence of the superior skill of the artist, creating a perfect likeness in both his physical attributes and the air of prestige carried by the ruler (see I. Miller, 'Some Iranian and Afghan Portraits in the Public Record Office', Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, vol.8, no.3, 1998, pp.343). The grandeur of Nasir al-Din Shah’s reign is evident in his striking pose that dominates the foreground of the portrait. The almost symmetrical, face-on composition emphasises his piercing gaze, hinting at an omniscient depiction of the ruler.

Although Muhammad Hasan Afshar was painter laureate to Muhammad Shah, it is these nearly life-size oil portraits of Nasir al-Din Shah that Robinson describes as his “most remarkable works.” They are currently housed in the Gulistan Palace Museum collection, Tehran, in a private Tehran collection, and in the Chehel Situn Palace, Isfahan (B. Robinson, Persian Miniature Painting, London, 1967, p.83).