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Oil painting - Woman Playing a Guitar

Woman Playing a Guitar

  • Object:

    Oil painting

  • Place of origin:

    Tehran (probably, made)

  • Date:

    1800-1830 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Oil on calico

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

This painting is part of a group purchased by the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1876. At the time, it was described as being, "From the Shah's palace at Tehran."

The painting may well have been removed from a palace erected by Fath 'Ali Shah (reigned 1797-1834). His residences were often decorated with series of oil paintings in this style, which were built into the walls. The individual paintings are usually portraits of a single, large human figure. The shapes of the figures are flattened out, but there is a great deal of decorative detail.

Many of the series painted for Fath 'Ali Shah show imaginary portraits of members of a royal harem. In this case, a woman is shown playing a guitar.

Painting in oils was introduced to Iran after 1600, when the country had strong commercial links with Europe. Production shrank during the troubled period after the Afghan invasion of Iran in 1722. It burst back into life under the Qajar dynasty, who re-united the country in the 1780s and 1790s. Fath 'Ali Shah was the second ruler of this dynasty, and his patronage led to this revival of oil painting.

Place of Origin

Tehran (probably, made)


1800-1830 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Oil on calico


Height: 135 cm, Width: 84 cm

Object history note

When the painting was purchased, it was described as being, "From the Shah's palace at Tehran."

Historical context note

"When a new dynasty, the Qajars, emerged at the end of the eighteenth century, portraits in oils began to assume a highly political function. The founder of the dynasty, Agha Muhammad (died 1797), had been castrated as youth by his father's enemies, and his successor, Fath 'Ali Shah (ruled 1797-1834), was keen to emphasize his masculinity. As a way of doing this, he commissioned numerous portraits of himself that showed him as slim-waisted, youthful and heavily bearded. Some were sent abroad as diplomatic gifts, and many were placed in his palaces, where they were flanked by paintings showing either an enormous entourage, including many of his sons and grandsons, or harem women engaged in the entertainment of their lord."
Tim Stanley, Palace and Mosque, p. 72

Descriptive line

Full-length imaginary portrait of a woman playing a guitar, in the style current under the Qajar ruler Fath 'Ali Shah (1797-1834).

Labels and date

Painting. Oil on calico. A lady sitting on a dais and playing the tar. From the Shah's palace at Tehran. Persian. Early 19th century. H. 4ft 4in, W. 2ft 7.5in. Bought 1l 2s. [Inventory of Art Objects 1876-78]




South & South East Asia Collection

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