The painter of this charming drawing is Mu‘in Musavvir (ca.1630s-1697), Reza Abbasi’s most celebrated and talented student, who was taken on as a pupil at an early age. In addition to his illustrated manuscripts such as Shahnamas, he created a large number of single-page drawings and paintings of a wide variety of subjects such as dervishes and animals in the wilderness. Our painting represents Mu‘in’s unique style, which shows little of the European and Indian influences commonly seen at the Safavid court from the 1640s onward. This drawing presents the artist’s skilful painterly brushwork and his affection for shades of pinks, blues and yellows, evident here in some of the merchant’s attire. Mui’n also worked for non-royal patrons, such as our example, who were presumably more conservative in their taste than Shah Safi (r. 1629–42) and ‘Abbas II (r. 1642–66), and at certain times lived outside the capital, Isfahan.
This Persian depiction of a camel and groom or merchant is part of the long tradition of portraying camels. The best-known examples from the Timurid period include the camel fight by Behzad, one of his best-known works (Ali Reza Sami-Azar (ed.), Iranian Masterpieces of Persian Painting, exhibition catalogue, Tehran, 2005, pp.428-431). There are two further paintings ascribed to him that show a camel and groom, the first is in the Topkapi Palace Library, Istanbul, which "is worthy of the work of Wali or Behzad" (Ebadollah Bahari, Bihzad, Master of Persian Painting, London, 1997, pl.19, op.57). The second painting, formerly in the Sakisian Collection, is now in the Freer Gallery, Washington (acc. no. F1937.22). The fighting camels were copied many times; the practice of pupils copying paintings as part of their artistic training was a common tradition in all royal courts, especially the Safavid paintings ateliers. This has resulted in many different versions of the same subject having survived. Other Safavid works also depicting camels after Behzadian originals were sold at Christie's London, 8 October 2015, lot 36 and 15 December 2015, lot 107. A further example was sold at Sotheby's London, 7 October 2015, lot 260.