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Identification and Creation
Object Number
2002.50.9
Title
Portrait of a Youth
Classification
Paintings
Work Type
painting
Date
mid 19th century
Places
Creation Place: Middle East, Iran
Period
Qajar period
Culture
Persian
Persistent Link
https://hvrd.art/o/149492
Physical Descriptions
Medium
Opaque watercolor on paper
Dimensions
23.8 x 14.2 cm (9 3/8 x 5 9/16 in.)
Provenance
[Sothebys, London, 7 July 1975, lot no. 67], sold; to Stanford and Norma Jean Calderwood, Belmont, MA (1975-2002), gift; to Harvard Art Museums, 2002.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art
Accession Year
2002
Object Number
2002.50.9
Division
Asian and Mediterranean Art
Contact
am_asianmediterranean@harvard.edu
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Descriptions
Description
The composition of this portrait study was first outlined in pencil and then blocked out with fields of watercolor, as is evidenced in the sitter’s chair. Next, the artist added opaque watercolor in layers, using fine lines and stippling to replicate the designs and textures of fabrics, most prominently those of the young man’s patterned coat and its gray fur trim. In contrast to his brightly colored clothing, his face is generally pallid, but blues beneath his chin and mouth suggest the hint of a beard. The play on near monochrome is continued in the silhouetted, inky locks that frame his face and give way to a tall black hat. The subject’s position in the composition and aspects of painterly execution such as the modeling of his face and hands suggest that the image was based at least in part on a photograph, a practice common among Qajar artists from the mid-nineteenth century onward, photography having been introduced in Iran in the 1840s. The painting reflects the “new realism” introduced by Abu'l-Hasan Ghaffari, also known as Sani' al-Mulk, in the middle years of the nineteenth century, during the reign of Nasir al-Din Shah (r. 1848–96), and disseminated by his contemporaries. Ghaffari’s work combined physiognomic likeness with the psychology of the subject to produce an often intense pictorial effect—a “real” presence—undiminished by rich decorative details, which in some artists’ hands might emphasize surface at the expense of illusionistic volume and depth. Although this portrait lacks the overall impact of a work by Ghaffari, it demonstrates its painter’s participation in what was new at the time.
On the lower right side of the sheet, a barely visible inscription, which reads, tasvvr-i dukhtar-i Shahrukh (depiction [by] the daughter of Shahrukh), is tantalizing because it suggests a female artist. Unfortunately, however, this notation is too perfunctory and too uncertain in date to permit further conclusions.

Published Catalogue Text: In Harmony: The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art , written 2013
126

Portrait of a Youth
Folio from an album
Iran, Qajar period, mid-19th century
Opaque watercolor on paper
Folio: 23.8 × 14.2 cm (9 3/8 × 5 9/16 in.)
2002.50.9

Published: McWilliams 2002a, 16, fig. 12.

The composition of this portrait study was first outlined in pencil and then blocked out with fields of watercolor, as is evidenced in the sitter’s chair. Next, the artist added opaque watercolor in layers, using fine lines and stippling to replicate the designs and textures of fabrics, most prominently those of the young man’s patterned coat and its gray fur trim. In contrast to his brightly colored clothing, his face is generally pallid, but blues beneath his chin and mouth suggest the hint of a beard. The play on near monochrome is continued in the silhouetted, inky locks that frame his face and give way to a tall black hat. The subject’s position in the composition and aspects of painterly execution such as the modeling of his face and hands suggest that the image was based at least in part on a photograph, a practice common among Qajar artists from the mid-nineteenth century onward, photography having been introduced in Iran in the 1840s.

The painting reflects the “new realism” introduced by Abuʾl-Hasan Ghaffari, also known as Saniʿ al-Mulk, in the middle years of the nineteenth century, during the reign of Nasir al-Din Shah (r. 1848–96), and disseminated by his contemporaries. Ghaffari’s work combined physiognomic likeness with the psychology of the subject to produce an often intense pictorial effect—a “real” presence—undiminished by rich decorative details, which in some artists’ hands might emphasize surface at the expense of illusionistic volume and depth.[1] Although this portrait lacks the overall impact of a work by Ghaffari, it demonstrates its painter’s participation in what was new at the time.

On the lower right side of the sheet, a barely visible inscription, which reads, taṣvīr-i dukhtar-i Shāhrukh (depiction [by] the daughter of Shahrukh), is tantalizing because it suggests a female artist. Unfortunately, however, this notation is too perfunctory and too uncertain in date to permit further conclusions.

David J. Roxburgh

[1] See Raby 1999, 56 and cats. 119–21. For other comparative materials, see Diba 1998, cats. 74, 78, 79, 80, 88.

Publication History

Armenag Sakisian, La Miniature Persane du XIIe au XVIIe Siecle, Les Editions G. van Oest (Paris, France, 1929), plate 105

Mary McWilliams, "With Quite Different Eyes: The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art", Apollo, ed. David Ekserdjian (November 2002), vol. CLVI no. 490, pp. 12-16, p.16, fig. 12

Mary McWilliams, ed., In Harmony: The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art, exh. cat., Harvard Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2013), p. 259, cat. 126, ill.

Exhibition History

Closely Focused, Intensely Felt: Selections from the Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art, Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, 08/07/2004 - 01/02/2005

In Harmony: The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 01/31/2013 - 06/01/2013

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at am_asianmediterranean@harvard.edu