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Qajar Women from 19th Century Iran


Qajar Women presents a completely new and innovative approach to Qajar art. Until now, the most popular representations of the Qajar era (1779 to 1925) have been of male sovereigns whose life-size portraits exaggerate masculinity to depict power. Yet this era is also characterised by artistic modernisation in Iran.

This is particularly true of paintings and photography, in which women became essential characters in the events and scenes portrayed. The exhibition includes artworks that reflect various interpretations of female musicians, aristocratic women, women at the court and in private quarters, all exploring the rarely-told narratives of the Qajar artistic tradition. Works by contemporary artists inspired by Qajar iconography are also on view, demonstrating how the imagery of Qajar women continues to inspire artists today. 


Mirror Case Qajar Iran, circa 1820 Painted, varnished and gilded papier–mâché
Like many Qajar-era mirror cases that celebrate the triumphs of men, this object features a portrait of a Qajar prince on the outer cover and an intimate image of a coquettish lady on the inside of the case.

The exhibition can be viewed at the Museum of Islamic Art daily, except Tuesdays when the museum is closed. 

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Portrait of a woman Artist: Émile Duhousset Iran and France, circa 1860-70 Pencil, watercolour and black ink on paper, red ink seal impression.
This image of a woman from Qajar Iran, painted by a French traveller, demonstrates how the depiction of female beauty differs according to the cultural context of the artist. When compared to the paintings of Sani’ al-Mulk on display here, this painting by a European artist evinces a very different aesthetic of feminine beauty.

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Divan of Hafez Copyist: ‘Abd al-Majid Qajar Iran, 1227 AH/ 1812 CE Opaque watercolour on paper
Because facial expressions were often not depicted, exchanges of objects were used to illustrate the emotions of both men and women in Qajar (and earlier) painting. Here the woman takes an active role, handing a letter or poem to her love interest.

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