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Masterpieces of 19th-century Persian Art. Scenography by Mr Christian Lacroix


The Louvre-Lens Museum is proud to present the very rst retrospective in continental Europe dedicated to the magni cent art of the Qajar dynasty, the glorious sovereigns who ruled Iran from 1786 to 1925. This period is one of the most fascinating in the history of the country, one in which it embraced innovation and
modernisation while still seeking to maintain its identity.
The original and surprising art created during this period was particularly rich and bountiful, driven in part by exceptionally talented court artists. The latter are
the focus of this exhibition, which displays over 400 works, many of them appearing here for the rst
time anywhere in the world. They come from a wide range of private collections and famous European, North American and Middle Eastern institutions. The exhibition also bene ts from exceptional loans from major Iranian museums. This comprehensive overview of Qajar art brings together paintings, drawings, jewellery, enamels, rugs, clothing, photographs and ceremonial weapons, all showcased by Christian Lacroix’s immersive and vibrant design.

Qajar Iran: a rich but little-known history

While historians have studied the ancient civilisations that once ourished in this area three times the size of France, very few have examined the 18th and 19th centuries, and it is only recently that this period has received the attention it deserves from Islamic art scholars, after the very rst retrospective in 1998 devoted to Qajar painting. As a key transitional period, it remains a major point of reference for contemporary Iranian artists working today.

In 1786, Agha Muhammad, an army general, eunuch and tribal chief, seized power and settled in a small town that he made his capital: Tehran.
Following his assassination in 1797, his nephew Fath Ali Shah ascended to the throne. The Qajar dynasty was born, and with it began a 19th century of great upheaval in terms of both politics and art. There were seven Qajar rulers in total, with the last being Ahmad Shah. He was deposed in 1925 by Reza Khan, who went on to found the Pahlavi dynasty.

During this extraordinary period, the artistic development of pieces intended for the court focused on traditional techniques such as painting, glasswork and metalworking, elevating these elds to a new level of excellence. The Qajar sovereigns themselves were experts in drawing and calligraphy. At the same time, new techniques began to appear, including photography, which played a central role following its introduction in the 1840s. While the major iconographical themes endured, the styles used to depict them changed considerably and had a profound impact on Iranian art.

Exhibition overview

The introductory section of the exhibition lets visitors follow in the footsteps of a number of European travellers, particularly the painter Jules Laurens and the architect Pascal Coste. Both published books drawing on their travels in Persia, promoting a growing European interest in the art and architecture of Iran in the 19th century. This introduction presents the drawings, surveys, paintings and works of these two important travellers side-by-side.

The second section oŽers a cultural overview of the Qajar period. After passing through a portrait gallery featuring the various sovereigns, visitors are invited to reect on the close links that the dynasty maintained with its European counterparts from the start of the century onwards. As in Europe, the rediscovery of the nation’s history sowed the seeds for the birth of nationalism, while Iranian society was profoundly a˜ected by a range of religious movements interwoven with political disagreements.

The third section examines the courtly arts and how they became codi ed according to an aesthetic unique to the Qajar dynasty. As artists themselves, the Shahs were conscious of the importance of artistic production from a political standpoint. Shrewdly exploiting their own image, they created a new backdrop for their sometimes fragile power, establishing a luxurious, sophisticated court and redesigning its architecture. Ceramic panels, vast oil paintings, rugs, jewellery, clothes and musical instruments all played a role in moulding this image.

The last section presents the artists, the way their status developed throughout the century, and their encounters with modernity. In doing so, it sheds light on the artists of the time and on the major themes explored in painting, pottery and metalworking. The artists’ search for excellence using traditional techniques and for an Iranian modernity dovetailed with the
needs of the Shahs; they were fascinated by European innovations such as
photography and lithography, which went on to revolutionise Iranian art. This final section of the exhibition is punctuated by exceptional works such as an enormous Baccarat crystal chandelier.

Scenography by Mr Christian Lacroix

An art history enthusiast himself, designer Christian Lacroix has fashioned the exhibition as a stroll through the rooms of an opulent Qajar palace.

Visitors enter the gallery through a monumental doorway inspired by the triple arcade depicted in the Ruines du palais d’Ashra, a 19th-century painting by Jules Laurens on loan from the Bibliothèque Inguimbertine in Carpentras. Immediately, visitors are greeted by a splendid theatrical costume created by Christian Lacroix in 2001 for Bianca Li’s ballet Shéhérazade at the Paris Opera.
Within the exhibition gallery, the succession of rooms is inspired by the palatial residence constructed by Fath Ali Shah in Sulaymaniyah, the plans for which – now preserved in the Bibliothèque municipale de l’Alcazar in Marseille – were drawn up in 1840 by architect Pascal Coste.

The rooms are therefore grouped into four architectural units that correspond to the four main sections of the exhibition, separated by alleys. Each unit can be identied by varying shades of a certain colour, characteristic of both Qajar art and the world of Christian Lacroix: blue, red, green and yellow. Walls hung with silk and walkways covered with rugs created by the designer recall the sumptuousness of Iranian textiles. By contrast, the Napoleon III style chairs loaned by the Mobilier National and display cases from the early 20th century remind visitors that the later Qajar sovereigns were influenced by the art of the Second French Empire.

Cultural programme

Alongside the exhibition, the museum is organising a series of events and conferences hosted at La Scène, the venue’s auditorium. The programme explores the founding myths of Iran, recalls the discovery of the country by European artists in the 19th century, and showcases contemporary Iranian art. It takes visitors on a journey from medieval initiation stories (The Conference of the Birds) to the percussion of the Chemirani Ensemble via the Mélodies persanes of Saint-Saëns and the lms of Abbas Kiarostami and Marjane Satrapi. An event
not to be missed is the literary banquet and costume ball, a festive and unconventional trip back in time to Qajar Iran.
The Resource Centre auditorium, meanwhile, will host an international colloquium reviewing current research on the art of the Qajar dynasty.

Within the framework of the 2016-19 agreement between the ICHHTO and the musée du Louvre, the exhibition The Musée du Louvre in Tehran. Treasuries of the French national collections will be presented in the national Museum of Iran, from March 5th until June 3rd, 2018.

Curator: Gwenaëlle Fellinger, Senior Curator, department of Islamic Art at the Louvre Museum.
Associate curator: Hana Chidiac, head of the North African and Near Eastern collections at the Musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac.

The exhibition, together with the accompanying colloquium, has benefited from the generous support of the Elahé Omidyar Mir-Djalali Fund, established by Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute, as part of the Louvre Endowment Fund.
The exhibition has been made possible thanks to the special support from Crédit Mutuel Nord Europe Foundation and Total Foundation. Lelièvre Paris has also supported the exhibition by providing remarkable furniture silks.


Césarine Davin-Mirvault. Asker-Khan, the Persian Ambassador in Paris, in 1808. Oil on canvas. Paris, 1809  Versailles, Musée national des châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon MV 4792, acq. 1836
Pair of cats Steel, gold and silver inlay  Iran, 2nd half of 19th century  Paris, Musée du Louvre, département des Arts de l’Islam MAO 898 et MAO 899, achat 1993
Binding decorated with flowers and birds Iran, c. 1780–1820 Papier-mâché, painted and lacquered decoration Paris, musée du Louvre © Musée du Louvre, dist. RMN-GP / Hughes Dubois

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