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Iranian Teahouse Painting Master Esmaeilzadeh Dies at 85

TEHRAN, Feb. 11 (Mehr News Agency) -- Hassan Esmaeilzadeh, who was one of the last few living masters of Iranian teahouse painting, died of a mild case of Alzheimer's disease at 85 at his home on Friday.

He was not able to paint any more after 1995 due to old age and blindness in his left eye. However, he drew sketches which were painted by pupils in his atelier in order to prevent this style of painting from falling into oblivion, he once said in an interview with the Tehran Times.

He was also known as Chalipa, a name he took from his father.

A number of Esmaeilzadeh's works are on display at the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, the Museum of Imam Ali (AS), Sadabad Palace, and Kandelos Museum and many of his other works have been transferred abroad by foreign collectors and museums.

Master Hassan Esmaeilzadeh looks at his "The Noon of Ashura" in a photo taken by Mehr photographer Heidar Rezaii in his home in December 2005. Esmaeilzadeh died on February 9.

Born in Zanjan, Esmaeilzadeh left the northeastern Iranian city along with his family during his childhood to live in Tehran. Years later, he was a student of one of the two known pioneers of teahouse painting, Mohammad Modabber (died in 1967) for 14 years and was greatly influenced by him. Consequently, he was later called the Second Modabber.

"In the beginning, I was paid three rials a day and thereafter, when I improved my painting, it reached 14 rials," Esmaeilzadeh said.

"The Noon of Ashura", which depicts Imam Hussein (AS) and his followers battling against a division of the Umayyad caliph Yazid's army on the day of Ashura, is one of his masterpieces, which is kept in a collection gathered by his son Jafar.

"When he was painting the work, he ran out of red paint. Since he had decided to complete the work in a set time, he performed ablution, and then cut his finger to use his blood in place of the red paint in some parts of the work," Jafar once said, quoting a memory of the work from his father.

"Ali-Akbar in Battle" is the last work of the master, in which he has depicted Ali-Akbar, the son of Imam Hussein (AS), on Ashura, the 10th of Muharram, 61 AH, the day the Imam and his family and followers were martyred.

Esmaeilzadeh's funeral procession will begin in front of the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art tomorrow and he will be buried in the Artists Graveyard of Tehran's Behesht-e Zahra Cemetery.

Cultural officials neglecting teahouse painting

The few artists working in Iran's teahouse painting style have repeatedly called on Iranian cultural officials to pay attention to the art form, which has been neglected over the past few decades, but they believe their pleas have fallen on deaf ears.

In an interview with the Tehran Times in 2002, Esmaeilzadeh complained about the lack of support for this style of art, saying satirically, "We thank God that the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance has provided a piece of land for artists in Behesht-e Zahra Cemetery so that they will not face any problems there!"

Many teahouse painters like Hossein Qollar-Aqasi, Modabber, Abbas Bolukifar, and Mohammad Hamidi died in obscurity. Hamedani was one of them, who died in 2005. His family refused to bury him in the Artists Graveyard of the Behesht-e Zahra Cemetery in protest at officials' disregard of teahouse painters.

The teahouse has had various functions in different eras during its 400-year history in Iran. Teahouses used to be places where people gathered to spend their leisure time listening to a naqqal (Iranian traditional storyteller) reciting Ferdowsi's Shahnameh. People talked and exchanged views, and along with lutis (wise and generous people), helped poor people.

Teahouse painters emerged in such an atmosphere. They listened to the discussions and tales, using them as subjects for the paintings they drew on the walls, tiles, and stones. With their own unique perspective not used in other styles, teahouse painters drew motifs entirely based on their imagination. The themes of such paintings are epics, traditions, and religion.

The pioneers of this genre, Qollar-Aqasi (died in 1966) and Modabber came to the teahouses of Tehran and painted. They left precious works and taught students who went on to become prominent artists. Thereafter, teahouse painting was developed and attracted more aficionados. The teahouses were rated according to their paintings. Even Zurkhanehs (Iranian traditional sports clubs) used such masterpieces for decoration.

Certain Tehran galleries' annual exhibitions of the few tattered works remaining of this art form are the only places to see these paintings in Iran.

... Payvand News - 2/11/07 ... --

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