Kamal-ol-Molk: Eminent Iranian Painter

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Mohammad Ghaffari, better known as Kamal-ol-Molk, was born in Kashan in 1847 to a family greatly attached to art. He was undoubtedly one of the most eminent artists of Iran.

Kamal-ol-Molk’s uncle, Mirza Abolhassan Khan Ghaffari, known as Sanee-ol-Molk, a 19th-century painter, was unrivalled in watercolor portraits. His father, Mirza Bozorg Ghaffari Kashani, was the founder of Iran’s painting school and a famous artist in his own right. His brother, Abutorab Ghaffari, was also a distinguished painter of his time.

From his early years, Mohammad developed an interest in calligraphy and painting.

As a child, he drew charcoal sketches on the walls of his room. Some of the sketches he drew in that house are still visible.

Upon completing his primary education, he moved to Tehran. He joined Dar-ol-Fonoun School where he studied painting with Mozayyen-od-Doleh, a well-known painter who had visited Europe and studied Western art.

Mohammad studied there for three years during which his artistry began to bloom. Whenever he found some free time, he spent it on painting, strengthening his union with nature. Through his sharp vision, he could unveil secrets in lines and colors hidden from the common eye.

During a visit to Dar-ol-Fonoun, Nassereddin Shah came to know Mohammad and, having observed his incredible talent, he invited him to the court. Noticing his mastery in painting, Nassereddin Shah gave him the title Kamal-ol-Molk (Perfection on Land).

During the years he worked in court, Kamal-ol-Molk created some of his most significant works. The paintings he did in this period, which lasted up until the assassination of Nassereddin Shah, were portraits of important people, landscapes, paintings of royal camps and hunting grounds, and different parts of royal palaces.

In this busiest period of Kamal-ol-Molk’s artistic life, he created over 170 paintings.
Unfortunately, most of these paintings have either been destroyed or taken abroad.

The works he created in this period indicate his desire to discover the laws of oil painting. He advanced so much that he even acquired laws of perspective and applied them to his works. He was a master in the delicate use of bright and lively colors, distinguishing himself from his contemporaries.

Following Nassereddin Shah’s death, Kamal-ol-Molk found it impossible to work under Mozaffareddin Shah. Therefore, he set out for Europe at the age of 47 to improve his art. The West opened a new horizon before the curious eyes of the artist.

Discussions with distinguished European artists gave him the opportunity to gain insight into the intricacies of their style and improve his own technique.

Kamal-ol-Molk copied some of Rembrandt’s works. He recreated Rembrandt’s famous “Self Portrait”, “Jonah”, and “Saint Matthew”. These copies were so splendid and enchanting that those who compared them with the originals were unable to tell them apart.

He visited many European museums and closely studied the works of well-known artists such as Raphael, Titian, and da Vinci and copied some of their works.

Kamal-ol-Molk stayed in Europe for about four years during which he never spent a single moment in vain. He experienced, created and learned. In 1898, he returned to Iran.

The increasing pressure on Kamal-ol-Molk, originating from Mozaffareddin Shah’s court, left him no option but to leave his country for Iraq, in spite of all the affection he had for Iran.

The visits he made to the holy cities in Iraq gave a new impetus to his creative spirit and great talent. The golden domes, shrines, turquoise minarets, mosques and long lines of pilgrims walking round the holy shrines were all sources of inspiration for him.

“Karbala-ye-Moalla Square” and “Baghdad Jewish Fortune-Tellers” are two of his most magnificent works of this period.

With the advent of the Constitutional Movement, after a two-year stay in Iraq, Kamal-ol-Molk returned to Iran and joined the movement because of his deep dislike for the government of Mozaffareddin Shah. Portraits like “Commander Asa’d Bakhtiari” and “Azad-ol-Molk” signify this period.

The post-Constitutional Movement era gave rise to a new atmosphere. Proponents of the movement were cultured and appreciated art more than their predecessors, and appreciated the stature and works of Kamal-ol-Molk.

The master established Sanaye Mostazrafeh Art School, better known as Kamal-ol-Molk Art School, to promote Iranian art and establish a new style of painting. The school’s goal was to identify new talents and educate them in the best possible way.

Kamal-ol-Molk did not confine himself to painting. Rather, he introduced other arts and crafts such as carpet weaving, mosaic designing and woodwork in his school. In addition to teaching art, he also taught students the importance of morals and humanity through his kind behavior. He often stayed late at school teaching and even gave away a portion of his monthly salary to poor students.

In a relatively short time, Kamal-ol-Molk trained competent students, who went on to become famous artists. Hossein Ali Khan Vaziri, Esmaeel Ashtiani, Ali Mohammad Heidarian, Mahmood Olia, Nematolah Moshiri, Ali Akbar Yasami and Mohsen Soheili are some of his prominent students. Their achievements received much attention in Iran and Europe.

Following the 1920 coup and Reza Khan’s seizure of power, Kamal-ol-Molk learned that the Pahlavi Dynasty was no different from the corrupt government of Qajar and refused to cooperate with Reza Khan Pahlavi.

Whenever Reza Khan encountered Kamal-ol-Molk, he tried to entice him to the court but did not succeed. The nearer Reza Khan came, the farther Kama-ol-Molk moved away. When Reza Khan learned that he could not persuade Kamal-ol-Molk to cooperate with his government, he cut his monthly salary and school expenses to force him to resign.

In early 1928, following his resignation, the artist was exiled to Neishabour and stayed in Hosseinabad Village where he decided to do farming. The man who had spent his entire life reviving art and promoting Iranian culture was exiled for the crime of upholding freedom and independence.

One of the most unfortunate events in this period is that he lost an eye, the reason for which is not known to us. That’s why he could not pursue painting during his years in exile.

In 1940, Kamal-ol-Molk, the distinguished artist whose love of his country knew no boundary, died in Neishabour. Mournful people buried his body near Sheikh Attar’s tomb where he rests in peace.

Kamal-ol-Molk founded a new style in Iranian art. Before him, Iranian painting was quite different. In the Qajar era, the Iranian painting was limited to miniature.

By referring to Kamal-ol-Molk’s style as innovative, it is not intended to devalue earlier paintings, rather it is a way of saying that Kamal-ol-Molk expanded the art of Iranian painting and opened new horizons to painters succeeding him.

His paintings adorn the Shams-ol-Emareh edifice. His created numerous paintings in Europe and Iraq, most of which unfortunately have either been destroyed or are in private collections.

Although he produced some color paintings, his oil paintings are of a higher quality and better known. He also did some sculpture, but his sculptures are overshadowed by his paintings. Among the paintings signed “Naqqash Bashi” (The Painter) are “Twin Waterfalls” painted in 1882 “Golestan Palace” (1883); “Imameh Village” (1884); “Bagh-e-Shah” (1886); “Zanousi Valley” (1886); and “Government Camp” (1889), the oldest painting signed Naqqash Bashi.

“Goldsmith” and “Two Beggar Girls”, all painted in 1889, are among his valuable works.

“Hanging Partridge” and the copies he made of European artists are among his most well-known works. But his masterpiece is “The Mirror Hall“.

The first painting he did after receiving the title “Kamal-ol-Molk” was his magnificent masterpiece “The Mirror Hall”. This is the first painting bearing that signature. “The Mirror Hall” was more of a turning point in Iranian art than a mere painting--a window to a new world rather than paint on canvas.

This exquisite painting is indicative of Kamal-ol-Molk’s huge talent and creativity. In this work, the artist marvelously depicts all the details of the vast “Mirror Hall” of Golestan Palace. In this lively spirited painting, Nassereddin Shah is portrayed sitting in the middle of “The Mirror Hall“. The reflection of light and shadow of objects in hundreds of pieces of mirrors as well as the reflection of mirrors in one another is so delicately pictured that the beholder can do nothing but look in awe and wonder.

During 1885-90, he used all his artistry, stamina and talent to create the painting. A critic once said of the Mirror Hall: “The delicate structure of the painting resembles a miniature. Massive chandeliers, crystal prisms, begemmed chairs and tables, a carpet rich in designs, long wavy tulle curtains, tree boughs learning against the window as if whispering the wind’s song into the hall’s ears are all reflected in the pieces of mirror, small and large, on the walls and ceiling. The golden rays of the sun have slipped on the magnificent carpet. Light and shadow are harmoniously mingled together to create a scene that mesmerizes the spectator”.

Iran has not seen the like of Kamal-ol-Molk.

Source: Iran Chamber Society

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