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Friday, June 1 • 11:30am - 12:00pm
(Paintings) Symbol, Record, Object: Treating the many facets of two Qajar Iran imperial portraits

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This paper discusses the treatment of two life-size portrait paintings in the collection of The Smithsonian Institution, Sackler Gallery of Art: the 1859 three-quarter length portrait of Prince Jalal al-Din, son of Fath Ali Shah by Abu’l Hasan Ghaffari, and the 1915 full-length painting of Ahmad Shah and his Cabinet by Ustad Assadallah al-Husayni Naqqash-bashi. Both paintings are powerful examples of how Iranian artists responded to the influences of Western portraiture while maintaining a unique sense of stylized line and pattern. Each painting required structural and cosmetic treatment, with treatment goals including reversing extensive previous treatment and preparing the painting for exhibition. As symbols of the importance of these men, the portrait of Prince Jalal al-Din is unique in the artist’s exceptional rendering and adherence to a very traditional 19th century portrait presentation, while the group portrait of Ahmad Shah, standing in front of his brother and ten members of his cabinet, was clearly influenced by contemporary photographs. Historical record was further presented in Ahmad Shah’s painting by the later addition of inscriptions identifying the men, and the replacement of the original dated artist’s signature at the bottom of the image. Examination and treatment of Ahmad Shah’s painting sought to place these inscriptions in context with other restorations, and to inpaint damages to balance visual unity of the image with the evidence of the painting as historical document. The materials and construction of each painting also greatly influenced the recent conservation treatments. The earlier portrait of Prince Jalal al-Din had a very traditional, Western painting construction of stretched, pre-primed linen canvas. Later restorations followed with lining and large areas of fill and restoration. Although the present treatment reversed most of the earlier treatment, it still followed a traditional path of re-lining, filling and inpainting. The later painting of Ahmad Shah had a simpler, less conventional construction, and was painted on seamed sections of thin, cotton fabric with no preparatory ground. Later repairs included small local patches and isolated restorations more in keeping with a hanging textile than a traditional stretched painting. The present treatment included a modified padded panel/stretcher support which would allow an easel painting presentation while retaining the irregularities of the seamed support fabric. Both treatments were informed by the accumulated histories of the paintings and the desire to respectfully preserve their very different constructions while enabling the vitality of the subjects to be present to the viewer.

avatar for Nancy R. Pollak

Nancy R. Pollak

Conservator, Art Care Associates
Nancy Pollak is a 1991 MS Graduate of the Winterthur / University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation where she majored in painting conservation with a special emphasis in painted textiles. She also holds a BFA in painting from Seton Hill College. In 1996 she established her private... Read More →

Friday June 1, 2018 11:30am - 12:00pm MDT
Texas Ballroom A Marriott Marquis Houston
  6. Specialty Session, Paintings