Last month, we installed a new display of works of art in the British Residence in Tehran. Among these works is a 19th century Iranian painting of the Qajar period.

Iranian (Qajar Dynasty), Lady with Bottle and Glass

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This lively and decorative portrait is thought to have been painted during the reign of Fath’Ali Shah (1772-1834). A woman entertainer adopts a contorted pose as she handles crystal wine decanter and a glass with her henna painted hands. She wears a head veil with floral patterns topped with a hair ornament in the form of an egret, a red blouse and a long blue skirt, encrusted with pearls and precious gems. The mono-brow tattooed with three small circles was a distinctive feature that reflected the ideals of feminine beauty during the Qajar period. Stylistic elements including hennaed hands, luxuriant and curly black hair, round faces and large eyes, were also commonly featured in paintings of entertainers from this period. Women were often depicted engaging in various activities from playing drums, tambourines or setars, to dancing, performing headstands or holding wine decanters. The distinctive arched top of these paintings suggest that they were intended for display in a space in a wall, perhaps in the private quarters of the Shah’s palace, hidden from visitors.

This painting, together with Lady Playing a Stringed Instrument were acquired by the UK Government in 1926 from the collection of Count Oswald Thun, who had previously displayed them in his residence in Prague, a building that later became the current site of the British Embassy.

To find out more about our new display in Tehran, and cultural and diplomatic relationship between Britain and Iran since the 16th century, keep a close eye on our social media. Later this month, we will be launching ‘A Meeting of Cultures’, an exciting audio podcast series that explores this subject further.