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 completion of his primary education, Mohammad moved to Tehran. To further his studies, he registered in Dar-ol-Funun School, a modern institute of higher education in Iran, where he studied painting with Mozayyen-od-Doleh, a well-known painter who had visited Europe and studied western art.
To further his studies, he registered in Dar-ol-Funun School, a modern institute of higher education in Iran, where he studied painting with Mozayyen-od-Doleh, a well-known painter who had visited Europe and studied western art.
He studied there for a period of three years. In his school days, the young Ghaffari was given the name Mirza Mohammad Kashi. In this short period of education he was able to attract public attention to himself as a talented artist.
In his visits to Dar-ol-Fonoon, Naser al-Din Shah Qajar came to know Mohammad Ghaffari and, having observed his talent, he invited him to the court. Mohammad did his best to perfect his technique. Noticing his mastery in painting, Nasereddin Shah gave him the title “Kamal-ol-Molk (Perfection on Land).”
During the years he stayed at Naser al-Din Shah Qajar’s 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 Naser al-Din 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 develop his oil painting technique. He advanced so much that he even acquired laws of perspective by himself and applied them to his works. His mastery in the delicate use of a brush was as well as bright and lively colors distinguished him from his contemporaries.
Following Naser al-Din Shah Qajar’s death, Kamal-ol-Molk found it impossible to work under his son, Mozaffar ad-Din Shah Qajar. Therefore, he set out for Europe in 1898, at the age of 47 to improve his art. Once there, he had discussions with distinguished European artists on style and technique, and copied some of Rembrandt’s works, including “Self Portrait”, “Jonah”, and “Saint Matthew”.
Kamal-ol-Molk visited most of Europe’s museums and closely studied the works of some well-known artists such as Raphael, Titian, and adapted and altered some of their works. He stayed in Europe for about four years. In 1902, he returned to Iran.
The increasing pressure on Kamal-ol-Molk, originating in Mozaffar ad-Din Shah Qajar’s court, left him no option but to leave his country for Iraq, in spite of all the affection he felt for Iran. The visits he made to the holy cities in Iraq inspired his work at this time. “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 Constitutionalists because of the hatred he had developed towards Mazaffareddin Shah’s government. Portraits like “Commander Asa’d Bakhtiari” and “Azad-ol-Molk” signify this period.
The post-Constitutional Movement era of Persia brought about a new atmosphere for the artist. The Constitutionalists were cultured and appreciated art more than did their predecessors, thus respect for Kamal-ol-Molk and his works increased.
The master established Sanaye Mostazrafeh Art School, better known as Kamal-ol-Molk Art School, pursued his artistic career and steadied a new style in Iranian art. The School’s goal was to find new talents, embrace them 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 to his school in order to revive the dying fine arts.
Kamal-ol-Molk died in Nishapur, Iran, in August 1940. Mournful people, especially family and closely related friends, marched his body next to the tomb of Sufi poet, Attar.
By Iran Review