John Vinter Nasr-al-Din Shah
Lot 222
John Vinter (British, circa 1828-1905) An official portrait of Nasr al-Din Shah Qajar (reg. 1848-1896), painted on the occasion of his second State visit to England in 1889
Sold for £311,200 (US$ 488,035) inc. premium

Lot Details
John Vinter Nasr-al-Din Shah John Vinter Nasr-al-Din Shah
John Vinter (British, circa 1828-1905)
An official portrait of Nasr al-Din Shah Qajar (reg. 1848-1896), painted on the occasion of his second State visit to England in 1889
the Shah standing looking directly at the viewer, his right hand resting on a European-style armchair, wearing a dark late 19th Century military uniform with the belt from the Imperial Crown Jewels of woven gold fastened with an emerald buckle set in a diamond-studded gold mount, a diamond medallion and a diamond-studded sash around his neck, he holds a diamond-studded sword in his left hand, and wears a beret on his head decorated with the Lion and Sun emblem, oil on canvas, signed and dated 1889 lower left, in a Victorian gilt frame with a later plaque reading His Imperial Majesty Nasr-ed-Din , K.G., the late Shah of Persia, painted by John A. Vinter, during the visit of His Imperial Majesty to England in 1889 (The Property of the Imperial Bank of Persia)
155 x 102 cm.

Footnotes

  • Provenance:
    1889 The Imperial Bank of Persia.
    1935 The Imperial Bank of Iran.
    1949 The British Bank of Iran and the Middle East.
    1952 The British Bank of the Middle East.
    1999 HSBC Bank Middle East.

    The painter:
    John Alfred Vinter (circa 1828-1905) was a painter of portraits, genre scenes and subjects from literature and history. He was also a lithographer of portraits and came to the attention of Queen Victoria as a result. Many of his lithographs which were exhibited at the Royal Academy were done for her including a portrait of Prince Albert after Winterhalter. See C. Wood, The Dictionary of British Art, vol. IV, Victorian Painters, London 1988, p. 543.

    The 'academic' style of the painting:
    Although this portrait was painted by a British artist, it is very similar in style to two other portraits of a seated Nasr al-Din Shah wearing a similar uniform and the emerald buckle seen here, which were painted by Muhammad Ghaffari, Kamal al-Mulk (1857-1940). The portraits are dated 1889 and 1891 respectively. The latter is in the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art and the former is in a private collection.

    According to Layla Diba the evolution of this style was a result of the Shah's reliance to a lesser extent than his predecessors on court painters in creating dynastic images or records of historical events. He actively supported and encouraged the most talented Persian artists and photographers which resulted in the emergence of a local school of portraiture, primarily in small-scale formats of unprecedentedly expressive power. See L. S. Diba, Royal Persian Paintings, London 1998, pp. 239-241.

    Julian Raby adds that Kamal al-Mulk, who created what was to become known as the 'academic' style, studied at the Dar al-Funun Academy (founded in 1851) in Tehran where he acquired his European style and technique. He soon attracted the Shah's attention and became the Naqqash-bashi in 1880. He rose to become the leading court painter and recalled that 'the Shah left all the painting to me'. Many of the royal portraits were based on photographs which were taken by the chief photographer Mirza Ahmad Khan, Sani' al-Saltanah. Like Kamal al-Mulk, he entered Dar al-Funun and rose to become one of the most illustrious Persian photographers of the Qajar period. He accompanied the Shah on his visit to England in 1889 as the official court photographer. It is most likely that Vinter, an accomplished lithographer of portraits at the time, would have been supplied with photographs of the Shah on which this portrait is based. See J. Raby, Qajar Portraits, London and New York 1999, pp. 70-80.

    The Crown Jewels:
    During his three visits to Europe in 1873, 1878 and 1889 the Shah had the opportunity to observe and admire the jewels and orders of the other monarch. He was made Knight of the Garter by Queen Victoria and presented her with the Nishan-i Timsal (Imperial Effigy) during his visit in 1873. This led the Shah to purchase and commission many pieces of jewellery which were added to the Imperial collection in Tehran. According to Meen and Tushingham the Shah's uniform was sometimes covered with precious stones from shoulder to waist, 'a glittering breastplate' in the words of his French physician who added that diamonds as big as walnuts were used for buttons. A news report on the Shah's visit to Queen Victoria at Windsor in 1873 related that he wore five rows of brilliants, with four large rubies on the breast of his uniform coat. In Vinter's portrait of the Shah, apart from a display of large diamonds, we are able to identify the gold woven belt with its heart-shaped cabochon-cut emerald buckle (estimated at 175 carats). According to Meen and Tushingham this emerald could well be the one that once adorned the Mughal Emperor and which was carried away from Delhi to Persia with other treasures by Nadir Shah in the 18th Century. The belt was last worn by Shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi (reg. 1941-1979) at his Coronation in 1967. The diamond medallion Nasr al-Din Shah is wearing around his neck may be the Darya-i Nur, the Nur al-Ain or the Taj-i Mah, three fabled Golconda diamonds which were mined during the Mughal reign. See V. B. Meen and A. D. Tushingham, Crown Jewels of Iran, Toronto 1968.

    Historical Background:
    This portrait was commissioned by the Imperial Bank of Persia during the state visit of the Shah to England in 1889. The bank was founded in the same year by Baron Julius de Reuter who had obtained a sixty-year banking concession from the Shah and which allowed the new bank to issue notes as well as to act as the state bank of Persia. It was also granted a Royal Charter by the British government. Other concessions included the building of a railway from the Caspian ports southward, total rights for all factories, minerals (except those already being exploited), irrigation works, agricultural improvements, new forms of transport, and virtually any form of modernised enterprise that might be undertaken in Persia. The sweeping Reuter concession was described by Curzon as the most complete grant of control over its resources ever made by any country to a foreigner. See P Avery, G. Haubly and C. Melville (eds.), The Cambridge History of Iran, vol. VII, Cambridge 1991. It can be said that the grants of such monopolies (another was given to the British Regie Company in 1891 for the collection and export of tobacco) led directly to the unrest in Persia in the last decade of the 19th Century and which culminated in the assassination of the Shah just before the ceremonies in honour of the fiftieth anniversary of his accession. (See L. S. Diba, op. cit, pp. 26-27).

    The Bank in its various incarnations moved premises a number of times after the Second World War, but it is likely that the portrait hung in the offices in Abchurch Lane in the City of London or later in Curzon Street, Mayfair.

    For further reading:
    A. Amanat, Pivot of the Universe: Nasr al-Din Shah Qajar and the Iranian Monarchy 1831-1896, London 1997.
    B. W. Robinson, 'Persian Painting under the Zand and Qajar Dynasties', in The Cambridge History of Iran, 1991, vol. VII, pp. 870-889.
    G. Jones, The History of the Bank of the Middle East, 2 vols., Cambridge 1987.

    A watercolour of Nasir al-Din Shah in an identical pose and uniform, but with a different background, by 'Ali Ashraf bin Aqabala and dated AH 1308/AD 1890, was sold at Christie's, London, 1st October 1996, lot 159.
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