'Abbas Mirza was born in the year 1203/1789, the son of Fath 'Ali Shah and Asiya Khanum, a daughter of Fath 'Ali Khan Devellu, whom the future Shah had married at the behest of Aqa Muhammad Shah thus uniting the two main branches of the Qajar tribes. Although not the most senior of Fath 'Ali's sons, 'Abbas Mirza was given the title of Nayeb al-saltana in 1799 and made Crown Prince because of the relative importance of his mother.
As heir designate of Fath 'Ali Shah, 'Abbas Mirza (1789-1833) was the viceroy of Azerbayjan, and, from his base in Tabriz, played an active part in governing the country by his father's side. He was the commander of the Persian forces against the Russians during the military campaigns of the first part of the century. With French and British help, he attempted to organise the Iranian army along European lines. During the two Russo-Persian Wars of 1804-13 and 1826-8, he was constantly on military campaigns as the province of Azerbayjan was threatened by Russians and Turks, and to some degree was denied victory by the unhelpful intervention of European powers. Thereafter, he was sent by the Shah to put down rebellions in Yazd and to frustrate an alliance of the governors of Fars and Kerman, his rival brothers, Husayn 'Ali Mirza and Hasan 'Ali Mirza (see lot 113). Later campaigns took him to Khorassan.
'Abbas Mirza took a great interest in the reform of the Persian army along European lines, employing first French and then British military advisers. The training of the artillery and infantry was enhanced by the building of new fortifications at Tabriz, Khoy and Ardabil. Based in Tabriz for military reasons, he did not live there all the time, moving between Khoy in the summer and Tabriz in the winter. One of his adjutants, Mirza Bozorg, had built the Negaristan Palace in Tehran for him. During his time, Tabriz flourished as a city of commerce and culture. 'Abbas Mirza spoke no European languages, but he fraternized with Europeans more than any other Qajar of his time.
Like his father, he produced many descendants and had twenty-six sons and twenty-one daughters. Despite his life of active service, and great fecundity, he does not appear to have been a very healthy man, and died in 1833 at the age of forty-four. Although he died prematurely, it was his line that reigned supreme through the remainder of the Qajar period.
Within a decade of the accession of Fath 'Ali Shah, Mihr 'Ali had challenged Mirza Baba as the leading court painter of the day.
Julian Raby, contrasting the two artists, writes, '.....Mihr 'Ali accentuated the profile of the Shah's figure and the directness of his gaze. He achieved this by using a brighter palette, amd more dramatic contrasts in colouring; he gave Fath 'Ali Shah a darker, fuller beard and more striking eyebrows. By reducing the modelling of the face, and dilating the whites of the eyes, he gave the Shah a mesmeric exprssion, which was directed straight to the viewer.'
All these qualities are present in this painting of 'Abbas Mirza, which is unlike any other portraits of him. While 'Abbas Mirza is described as an unpretentious man who dressed simply, here he is the very image of a future King. His father possessed immense wealth, the legacy of Nadir Shah's plundering of the Mughal treasury, and the Crown Prince is shown here covered in jewellery.
The kohl-rimmed almond-shaped eyes, careful rendering of the cut gem stones, and the observation of the textiles in this portrait point to the hand of Mihr 'Ali. In pose and in dress, the forerunner of this painting is probably the famous full length painting of Fath 'Ali Shah in a white robe holding a staff in the Hermitage, which is dated 1224 (1809-10) (Diba, see below, no. 39, p.183). Another portrait of the Shah seated, also in St. Petersburg, and dated 1229 (1813-14) depicts him wearing a patterned textile sash, similar to the one the Crown Prince wears in the current painting (Diba, see below, no.40, p. 184).
'Abbas Mirza appears mostly in large group paintings attending his father along with other sons. One of the most impressive was a monumental mural in the audience hall of the Negaristan Palace dating from 1812, now destroyed. Another is the large mural at the Sulaymaniyyeh Palace in Karaj which still survives though in rather dilapidated state.
More unusual in the canon of Persian painting of the time are three paintings of 'Abbas Mirza commanding the army in battle against the Russians now in the State Hermitage Museum in St.Petersburg (Diba, op.cit, nos.50-52, pp.199-202). Full-size formal portraits of the Crown Prince in full regalia are otherwise unpublished, making this painting of great importance.
Diba, L.S.: Royal Persian Paintings, The Qajar Epoch 1785-1925, New York, 1999
Encyclopaedia Iranica, I, New York, 2001, article by H. Busse, pp.79-84 Kleiss, Wolfram and Von Gall, H.: Der Qajaren Pavillion Suleimaniyeh Karadj in Archaeologische Mitteilungen aus Iran, X, 1977
Raby, J.: Qajar Portraits, London, 1999, pp. 11-15, pp.46-7.