Kings and noblemen of Iran’s Qajar dynasty (1779–1925) commissioned self-portraits to convey their power and splendor. Such imagery proliferated as monumental oil paintings, photographs or as intimately scaled lacquer objects and uniquely combined traditional Persian artistic conventions with European modes of representation. “The Prince and the Shah: Royal Portraits from Qajar Iran” offers a rare glimpse into the development and dissemination of royal and aristocratic portraiture in the 19th century and early 20th century in Iran at a time when the country underwent major political, societal and cultural changes. On view at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Feb. 24–Aug. 5, the exhibition highlights about 30 paintings, photographs and lacquer works from the collections.

“The sheer number and variety of portraits under the Qajars is unprecedented,” said Simon Rettig, the Freer Gallery of Art and the Sackler Gallery’s assistant curator of Islamic art. “It also testifies to a tremendous—still little understood—period of artistic innovation and experimentation, one that successfully integrates Western techniques and aesthetic principles and traditional Persian pictorial language.”

The exhibition includes several major and otherwise unknown works, which the Freer|Sackler has recently acquired through gift and purchase: a monumental painting of Ahmad Shah Qajar and his cabinet from 1914, the portrait of Prince Jalal al-Din Mirza dated 1859 and attributed to the renowned Qajar artist Abu’l-Hasan Ghaffari, and a selection of finely painted lacquer works.

This exhibition is supported by a gift from Patricia and Alex Farman-Farmaian.

Related Public Programs

On Friday, Feb. 23, the Freer|Sackler will remain open until 9 p.m. for “Freer Film Friday: Iranian Art, Music and Film,” as part of the museums’ 22nd annual Iranian Film Festival. Two films, Images of the Qajar Dynasty and Once Upon A Time Cinema, by acclaimed director Mohsen Makhmalbaf will be shown in the Meyer Auditorium. The exhibition “The Prince and the Shah: Royal Portraits from Qajar Iran” will be open that evening for a special preview with the exhibition’s curator.

On March 3 at 2 p.m., Abbas Amanat (Yale University), leading scholar on Qajar Iran, will give a lecture entitled “Persianizing Europe and Remembering Ancient Iran in the Nineteenth Century.”

To celebrate the Persian New Year, the Freer|Sackler will present its 10th annual “Nowruz: A Persian New Year Celebration” festival March 11, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The family event is a daylong celebration of food, music, storytelling and hands-on art activities. Nowruz marks the beginning of the New Year in Iran, Afghanistan and other countries of Central Asia, the Middle East and the Caucasus.

About the Freer|Sackler

The Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art and the adjacent Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, located on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., together comprise the nation’s museums of Asian art. It contains one of the most important collections of Asian art in the world, featuring more than 40,000 objects ranging in time from the Neolithic to the present day, with especially fine groupings of Islamic art, Chinese jades, bronzes and paintings and the art of the ancient Near East. The Freer|Sackler also contains important masterworks from Japan, ancient Egypt, South and Southeast Asia and Korea, as well as the Freer’s noted collection of works by American artist James McNeill Whistler.

The Freer|Sackler is part of the Smithsonian Institution, the world’s largest museum, education and research complex, which is dedicated to the increase and diffusion of knowledge.