Portrait d'une princesse Kadjar (Qājār, قاجار )

ca. 1847
Size : 23 x 31 cm, pasted on a 36 x 53 cm sheet.
Condition : A
Technique : Pencil and watercolor

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Jules Laurens (1825-1901), Portrait of a Princess Kadjar (Qājār, قاجار ). Pencil and watercolor, 23 x 31 cm, pasted on a 36 x 53 cm sheet.

Handwritten inscription at bottom: "Saèb, Sultan of Tèbriz".

Bibliography : unpublished.

In this unpublished sheet, Jules Laurens makes a superb representation of a Kadjar princess (Qājār, قاجار ), probably during her visit to Tabriz. In the nineteenth century, Persia is singled out in particular by standards of beauty specific to Persian culture. Thick eyebrows or even hair above the lips were then particularly appreciated. This fascinating subject has been the subject of an important book by Afsaneh Najmabadi (Women with Mustaches and Men without Beards: Gender and Sexual Anxieties of Iranian Modernity) but also of a recent exhibition in Doha at the Museum of Islamic art (Qajar women: images of women in 19th-century Iran, Doha, Qatar, Museum of Islamic art, 9 April 2015 - 16 June 2016. Curator: Mounia Chekhab-Abudaya).

Born in Carpentras in 1825, Jules Laurens studied at the Beaux-Arts de Montpellier alongside Alexandre Cabanel, before moving to Paris to train in the studio of Paul Delaroche. A few years later, he met Xavier Hommaire de Hell, a geographer, whose work was rewarded by a prize from the Geography Society. Also elected member of the Academy of Sciences, the man of letters also obtained the Legion of Honor in 1845. The geographer-artist tandem aroused the interest of Count de Salvandy, Minister of Public Instruction, who offered to publicly finance their research in order to investigate the hypothesis of an ancient sea that united the Black, Aral and Caspian Seas. At a time when the France of Louis-Philippe seeks to deepen its diplomatic relations with Persia, this project of voyage is also accompanied by political, economic and scientific objectives.

Xavier Hommaire de Hell was thus sent by the government on a scientific mission around the seas of Asia Minor and in Persia. Accompanied by Jules Laurens, the two men left France in May 1846, and successively crossed Italy, Moldavia, Anatolia, Armenia, Pontus, Kurdistan and Mesopotamia before finally arriving in Persia in November 1847. The team formed for this expedition took advantage of it to gather numerous geographical, geological, paleontological and archaeological information. Hommaire de Hell and his comrades reached Tehran in February 1848 where they were received by the French ambassador who introduced them to Shah Mohammad Qadjar. After several expeditions in the various Iranian provinces, Hommaire de Hell, struck down by fever, died on August 29, 1848. His death marked the end of this expedition whose most convincing result was the publication, from 1854, of the Voyage en Turquie et en Perse executed by order of the French government during the years 1846, 1847 and 1848. 

This expedition also allowed Jules Laurens to produce several hundred sketches, drawings and watercolors during it. In this unpublished composition, the artist masterfully represents a Kadjar princess. He shows great meticulousness in the rendering of fabrics but also in the attitudes and in the restitution of the environment of this young woman.   

His return to France brought Jules a renewed artistic legitimacy and a real consecration. With his experience as a painter-traveler, Jules Laurens participated in the illustration of several books, he also published numerous articles and regularly exhibited his paintings at the Salon. He became a jury member of the Salon and was awarded the Légion d'honneur in 1868. In 1892, Jules Laurens bequeathed an important collection of about one hundred drawings to the Library of the École nationale des Beaux-Arts in Paris. The majority of the works donated by the artist to this institution are sheets made during his trip to the Orient. A talented draughtsman, he is considered one of the leading artists in the representation of the Middle East in the 19th century.