With his kitsch and nave signature style, Ghasem Hajizadeh is known for his images of the Iran's glorious past and portraits of popular icons. His oeuvre is considered as the finest example of Iranian Pop art while the artist often hints at his own feelings of nostalgia, playfulness and irony. Throughout his career, Hajizadeh has portrayed a great number of famous and popular characters in different variations - from Qajar princesses like in the present composition to Princess Stéphanie de Monaco, from Mossadegh to Iranian beloved female poet Forough Farrokhzad.
At first glance, the present portrait of the Qajar princess Taj Saltaneh appears very intriguing. An imposing female figure faces the viewer; her allure and features do not reveal much femininity, but rather strength and a striking personality. Taj Saltaneh has remained since the late 19th century one of the most iconic figures of Iranian history.
Taj Saltaneh Khatoun (1884-probably 1936) is the daughter of the Qajar Emperor Nasseredin Shah who had travelled extensively to Europe and brought back a taste for modernisation and visual arts. In fact, not only Nasseredin Shah introduced many innovations in his country including the banking system, the rail transportation and the daily publication of newspapers, he was also the first Iranian to discover the art of photography during one of his mainly European visits and he was the first Iranian in history to have been photographed. Although a visionary and unquestionably a reformist, his dictatorial rule led to his assassination in 1896.
His daughter Taj Saltaneh Khatoun, hereby depicted, was herself one of the most progressive women of her time and one of the first Iranian princesses to adopt a European style and attitude. Her taste for Persian and European literature and history, her love for music and prose, but also painting and embroidery made her an independent woman with a strong personality and a reformist identity. Her much celebrated memoirs revealed the deplorable living conditions of Iranian women and openly criticised the act of veiling that had started to impose itself in the Iranian society at the turn of the 20th century, a phenomenon that she considered being an obstacle to the evolution and progress of women. A few decades after Taj Saltaneh's passing, her memoirs were partly published in the late 1960s, causing an unprecedented controversy in the Iranian society. Unquestionably an avant-gardist and one of the first and most acclaimed feminists of Middle Eastern history, Taj Saltaneh impersonates the glorious days of the Qajar rule and their long-lasting influence on the region's contemporary societies. As she opened a debate about the rights of women and stood against many throughout her lifetime, she anticipated much of the 20th century issues and was in true form a visionary.
In true Qajar form, Ghasem Hajizadeh has painted several portraits of the iconic Taj Saltaneh. The present work however is unquestionably his strongest and most intriguing depiction of the Qajar princess. In tune with the Qajar paragon of female beauty, Taj Saltaneh is hereby depicted as an imposing woman with typical facial hair and a traditional attire, yet with a somehow provocative décolleté that reinforces her feminist identity. As Hajizadeh hints at the aesthetics and representations of female beauty during the Qajar period in the same way that many other contemporary Iranian artists have in the course of art history, he also questions the evolution of women rights in the Iranian society and the somehow reverse development that has led to the contemporary social issues in Iran.