The Shah's Palace--The finest court--Alabaster throne hall--A
building in European style--The Museum--A chair of solid gold and
silver--The Atch--Paintings--The banqueting room--The audience
room--Beautiful carpets--An elaborate clock--Portraits of
sovereigns and their places--Pianos and good music--The
Jewelled-Globe room--Queen Victoria's photograph--Moving
pictures--Conservatory--Roman mosaics--Toys--Adam and Eve--Royal
and imperial oil paintings--A decided slight--The picture
gallery--Valuable collection of arms--Strange
paintings--Coins--Pearls--Printing press--Shah's country places.
One is told that one must not leave Teheran without carefully inspecting the Shah's Palace, its treasures and its museum. A special permit must be obtained for this through the Legation or the Foreign Office.
The first large court which I entered on this second visit has pretty tiled buildings at the sides, with its rectangular reservoir full of swans, and bordered by trees, is probably the most impressive part of the Palace. Fountains play in the centre, the spouts being cast-iron women's heads of the cheapest European kind.
The lofty throne hall stands at the end, its decorative curtains screening its otherwise unwalled frontage. For my special benefit the curtains were raised, leaving exposed the two high spiral stone columns that support the roof in front. The bases of these columns bore conventionalized vases with sunflowers and leaf ornamentations, while the capitols were in three superposed fluted tiers, the uppermost being the largest in diameter. The frieze of the ceiling was concave, made of bits of looking-glass and gold, and the ceiling itself was also entirely composed of mirrors. The back was of shiny green and blue, with eight stars and two large looking-glasses, while at the sides there was a blue frieze.
Two large portraits of Nasr-ed-din Shah, two battle scenes and two portraits of Fath-Ali-Shah decorated the walls. The two side doors of the throne-hall were of beautifully inlaid wood, and the two doors directly behind the throne were of old Shiraz work with ivory inscriptions upon them in the centre. The lower part of the wall was of coloured alabaster, with flower ornaments and birds, principally hawks. There were also other less important pictures, two of which I was told represented Nadir and Mahmud Shah, and two unidentified.
High up in the back wall were five windows, of the usual Persian pattern, and also a cheap gold frame enclosing a large canvas that represented a half-naked figure of a woman with a number of fowls, a cat and a dog. Two gold consoles were the only heavy articles of movable furniture to be seen.
The spacious throne of well-marked yellow alabaster was quite gorgeous, and had two platforms, the first, with a small fountain, being reached by three steps, the second a step higher. The platform was supported by demons, "guebre" figures all round, and columns resting on the backs of feline animals. On the upper platform was spread an ancient carpet.
On leaving this hall we entered a second court giving entrance to a building in the European style, with a wide staircase leading to several reception rooms on the first floor. One--the largest--had a billiard table in the centre, expensive furniture along the walls, and curtains of glaring yellow and red plush, the chairs being of the brightest blue velvet. Taken separately each article of furniture was of the very best kind, but it seemed evident that whoever furnished that room did his utmost to select colours that would not match.
There were two Parisian desks and a fine old oak inlaid desk, a capital inlaid bureau, manufactured by a Russian in Teheran, and some Sultanabad carpets not more than fifty years old. On the shelves and wherever else a place could be found stood glass decorations of questionable artistic taste, and many a vase with stiff bunches of hideous artificial flowers.
Let us enter the adjoining Museum, a huge room in five sections, as it were, each section having a huge chandelier of white and blue Austrian glass, suspended from the ceiling. There are glass cases all round crammed full of things arranged with no regard to their value, merit, shape, size, colour or origin. Beautiful Chinese and Japanese cloisonné stands next to the cheapest Vienna plaster statuette representing an ugly child with huge spectacles on his nose, and the most exquisite Sèvres and other priceless ceramic ware is grouped with empty bottles and common glass restaurant decanters. In company with these will be a toy--a monkey automatically playing a fiddle.
Costly jade and cheap prints were together in another case; copies of old paintings of saints and the Virgin, coloured photographs of theatrical and music-hall stars, and of picturesque scenery, a painting of the Shah taken in his apartments, jewels, gold ornaments inlaid with precious stones, a beautiful malachite set consisting of clock, inkstand, vases, and a pair of candlesticks; meteoric stones and fossil shells--all were displayed in the utmost confusion along the shelves.
At the further end of the Museum, reached by three steps, was a gaudy throne chair of solid gold and silver enamelled. The throne had amphoras at the sides and a sunflower in diamonds behind it. The seat was of red brocade, and the chair had very small arms. It rested on a six-legged platform with two supports and two ugly candelabras.
A glance at the remaining glass cases of the museum reveals the same confusion; everything smothered in dust, everything uncared for. One's eye detects at once a valuable set of china, and some lovely axes, pistols and swords inlaid in gold, ivory and silver. Then come busts of Bismarck and Moltke, a plaster clown, tawdry painted fans and tortoiseshell ones; a set of the most common blue table-service, and two high candelabras, green and white; a leather dressing-bag with silver fittings (unused), automatic musical figures, shilling candlesticks, artificial coloured fruit in marble, and a really splendid silver dinner-service.
From the Museum we passed into the Atch, a kind of store-room, wherein were numberless cigar-boxes, wicker-work baskets, and badly-kept tiger skins. Here were photographs of some of the Shah's favourites, a great assortment of nut-crackers--the Persians love walnuts--cheap prints in profusion, and some good antelope-skins.
This led into the banqueting room, in the European style--and quite a good, sober style this time. The room was lighted by column candelabras, and there was a collection of the Shah's family portraits in medallions; also a large-sized phonograph, which is said to afford much amusement to His Majesty and his guests.
The paintings on the walls ran very much to the nude, and none were very remarkable, if one excepts a life-size nude figure of a woman sitting and in the act of caressing a dove. It is a very clever copy of a painting by Foragne in the Shah's picture gallery, and has been done by a Persian artist named Kamaol-el-Mulk, who, I was told, had studied in Paris.
Most interesting of all in the room, however, was the exquisite old carpet with a delightful design of roses. It was the carpet that Nasr-ed-din Shah brought to Europe with him to spread under his chair.
The dining-room bore evident signs of His Majesty's hasty departure for the country. On the tables were piled up anyhow mountains of dishes, plates, wine-glasses, and accessories, the table service made in Europe being in most excellent taste, white and gold with a small circle in which the Persian "Lion and Sun" were surmounted by the regal crown.
We go next into the Shah's favourite apartments, where he spends most of his time when in Teheran. We are now in the small room in which I had already been received in audience by his Majesty on his birthday, a room made entirely of mirrors. There was a low and luxurious red couch on the floor, and we trod on magnificent soft silk carpets of lovely designs. One could not resist feeling with one's fingers the deliciously soft Kerman rug of a fascinating artistic green, and a charming red carpet from Sultanabad. The others came from Isfahan and Kashan. The most valuable and beautiful of all, however, was the white rug, made in Sultanabad, on which the Shah stands when receiving in audience.
Next after the carpets, a large clock by Benson with no less than thirteen different dials, which told one at a glance the year, the month, the week, the day, the moon, the hour, minutes, seconds, and anything else one might wish to know, was perhaps the most noticeable item in the Shah's room.
There was nothing in the furniture to appeal to one, the chairs and tables being of cheap bamboo of the familiar folding pattern such as are commonly characteristic of superior boarding-houses. In the way of art there was a large figure of a woman resting under a palm tree, a photographic enlargement of the Shah's portrait, and on the Shah's writing-desk two handsome portraits of the Emperor and Empress of Russia, the Emperor occupying the highest place of honour. Two smaller photographs of the Czar and Czarina were to be seen also in shilling plush frames on another writing-desk, by the side of an electric clock and night-light.
The eye was attracted by three terrestrial globes and an astronomical one with constellations standing on a table. A number of very tawdry articles were lying about on the other pieces of furniture; such were a metal dog holding a ten-shilling watch, paper frames, cheap imitation leather articles, numerous photographs of the Shah, a copy of the Petit Journal framed, and containing a representation of the attempt on the Shah's life, an amber service, and last, but not least, the nut-cracker and the empty nutshells, the contents of which the Shah was in process of eating when I had an audience of him some days before, still lying undisturbed upon a small desk. The Shah's special chair was embroidered in red and blue.
All this was reflected myriads of times in the diamond-shaped mirror ceiling and walls, and the effect was somewhat dazzling. The room had a partition, and on the other side was an ample couch for his Majesty to rest upon. In each reception room is to be seen a splendid grand piano, the music of which, when good, the Shah is said passionately to enjoy. One of his aides de camp--a European--is an excellent pianist and composer.
We now come to the world-renowned "Jewelled-Globe" room, and of course one makes at once for the priceless globe enclosed in a glass case in the centre of the room. The frame of the large globe is said to be of solid gold and so is the tripod stand, set in rubies and diamonds. The Globe, to do justice to its name, is covered all over with precious stones, the sea being represented by green emeralds, and the continents by rubies. The Equator line is set in diamonds and also the whole area of Persian territory.
There is nothing else of great artistic interest here, and it depressed one to find that, although the portraits in oil and photographs of the Emperors of Russia and Austria occupied prominent places of honour in the Shah's apartments, the only image of our Queen Victoria was a wretched faded cabinet photograph in a twopenny paper frame, thrown carelessly among empty envelopes and writing paper in a corner of his Majesty's writing desk. Princess Beatrice's photograph was near it, and towering above them in the most prominent place was another picture of the Emperor of Russia. We, ourselves, may attach little meaning to these trifling details, but significant are the inferences drawn by the natives themselves.
In this room, as in most of the others, there is Bohemian glass in great profusion, and a "one year chronometer" of great precision. A really beautiful inlaid ivory table is disfigured by a menagerie of coloured miniature leaden cats, lions, lizards, dogs, a children's kaleidoscope, and some badly-stuffed birds, singing automatically. On another table were more glass vases and a variety of articles made of cockle shells on pasteboard, cycle watches, and brass rings with imitation stones.
Adjoining this room is a small boudoir, possessing the latest appliances of civilisation. It contains another grand piano, a large apparatus for projecting moving pictures on a screen, and an ice-cream soda fountain with four taps, of the type one admires--but does not wish to possess--in the New York chemists' shops!! The Shah's, however, lacks three things,--the soda, the ice, and the syrups!
Less modern but more reposeful is the next ante-room with white walls and pretty wood ceiling. It has some military pictures of no great value.
On going down ten steps we find ourselves in a long conservatory with blue and yellow tiles and a semi-open roof. A channel of water runs in the centre of the floor, and is the outlet of three octagonal basins and of spouts at intervals of ten feet. There is a profusion of lemon and orange trees at the sides of the water, and the place is kept deliciously cool.
Here we emerge again into the gardens, which are really beautiful although rather overcrowded, but which have plenty of fountains and huge tanks, with handsome buildings reflected into the water.
The high tiled square towers, one of the landmarks of Teheran, are quite picturesque, but some of the pleasure of looking at the really fine view is destroyed by numerous ugly cast-iron coloured figures imported from Austria which disfigure the sides of all the reservoirs, and are quite out of keeping with the character of everything round them.
We are now conducted into another building, where Roman mosaics occupy a leading position, a large one of the Coliseum being quite a valuable work of art; but on entering the second room we are suddenly confronted by a collection of hideous tin ware and a specimen case of ordinary fish hooks, manufactured by Messrs. W. Bartlett and Sons. Next to this is a framed autograph of "Nina de Muller of St. Petersburg," and a photographic gathering of gay young ladies with suitable inscriptions--apparently some of the late Shah's acquaintances during his European tours. Here are also stuffed owls, an automatic juggler, an imitation snake, Japanese screens, and an amusing painting by a Persian artist of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden--the forbidden fruit already missing.
Previous to entering the largest room we come to an ante-room with photographs of scenery and events belonging to the Shah's tour to Europe.
In the large gold room the whole set of furniture, I am told, was presented to Nasr-ed-din Shah by the Sultan of Turkey, and there are, besides, six large oil-paintings hanging upon the walls in gorgeous gold frames. They represent the last two Shahs, the Emperor and Empress of Russia, the Crown Prince at the time of the presentation, and the Emperor of Austria. A smaller picture of Victor Emmanuel also occupies a prominent place, but here again we have another instance of the little reverence in which our beloved Queen Victoria was held in the eyes of the Persian Court. Among the various honoured foreign Emperors and Kings, to whom this room is dedicated, Queen Victoria's only representation is a small, bad photograph, skied in the least attractive part of the room--a most evident slight, when we find such photographs as that of the Emperor William occupying a front and honoured place, as does also the photograph of Queen Wilhelmina of Holland with her mother. Yet another palpable instance of this disregard for the reigning head of England appears in a series of painted heads of Sovereigns. The Shah, of course, is represented the biggest of the lot, and King Humbert, Emperor William, the Sultan of Turkey and the Emperor of Austria, of about equal sizes; whereas the Queen of England is quite small and insignificant.
The furniture in this room is covered with the richest plush.
We now come upon the royal picture gallery (or, rather, gallery of painted canvases), a long, long room, where a most interesting display of Persian, Afghan, Beluch and Turkish arms of all kinds, ancient and modern, gold bows and arrows, jewelled daggers, Damascus swords, are much more attractive than the yards of portraits of ladies who have dispensed altogether with dressmakers' bills, and the gorgeously framed advertisements of Brooks' Machine Cottons, and other products, which are hung on the line in the picture gallery! The pictures by Persian art students--who paint in European style--are rather quaint on account of the subjects chosen when they attempt to be ideal. They run a good deal to the fantastic, as in the case of the several square yards of canvas entitled the "Result of a dream." It contains quite a menagerie of most suggestive wild animals, and dozens of angels and demons in friendly intercourse playing upon the surface of a lake and among the entangled branches of trees. In the background a pyrotechnic display of great magnitude is depicted, with rockets shooting up in all directions, while ethereal, large, black-eyed women lie gracefully reclining and unconcerned, upon most unsafe clouds. The result on the spectator of looking at the "Result of a dream," and other similar canvases by the same artist, is generally, I should think, a nightmare.
There are some good paintings by foreign artists, such as the life-size nude with a dove by Folagne, which we have already seen, most faithfully and cleverly copied by a Persian artist, in the Shah's dining-room. Then there are some pretty Dutch and Italian pictures, but nothing really first-rate in a purely artistic sense.
The cases of ancient and rare gold and silver coins are, however, indeed worthy of remark, and so are the really beautiful Persian, Afghan and Turkish gold and silver inlaid shields, and the intensely picturesque and finely ornamented matchlocks and flintlocks. Here, too, as in China, we find an abnormally large rifle--something like the gingal of the Celestials. These long clumsy rifles possess an ingenious back sight, with tiny perforations at different heights of the sight for the various distances on exactly the principle of a Lyman back sight.
The Persians who accompanied me through the Palace seemed very much astonished--almost concerned--at my taking so much interest in these weapons--which they said were only very old and obsolete--and so little in the hideous things which they valued and wanted me to admire. They were most anxious that I should stop before a box of pearls, a lot of them, all of good size but not very regular in shape. Anything worth big sums of money is ever much more attractive to Persians (also, one might add, to most Europeans) than are objects really artistic or even pleasing to the eye.
Next to the pearls, came dilapidated butterflies and shells and fossils and stuffed lizards and crocodiles and elephants' tusks, and I do not know what else, so that by the time one came out, after passing through the confusion that reigned everywhere, one's brain was so worn and jumpy that one was glad to sit and rest in the lovely garden and sip cup after cup of tea, which the Palace servants had been good enough to prepare.
But there was one more thing that I was dragged to see before departing--a modern printing-press complete. His Majesty, when the fancy takes him, has books translated and specially printed for his own use. With a sigh of relief I was glad to learn that I had now seen everything, quite everything, in the Shah's Palace!
The Shah has several country seats with beautiful gardens on the hills to the north of Teheran, where he spends most of the summer months, and in these residences, too, we find the rooms mostly decorated with mirrors, and differing very little in character from those in the Teheran Palace, only not quite so elaborate. European influence has frequently crept in in architectural details and interior decorations, but not always advantageously.
The Andarun or harem, the women's quarter, is generally less gaudy than the other buildings, the separate little apartments belonging to each lady being, in fact, quite modest and not always particularly clean. There is very little furniture in the bedrooms, Persian women having comparatively few requirements. There is in addition a large reception room, furnished in European style, with elaborate coloured glass windows. This room is used when the Shah visits the ladies, or when they entertain friends, but there is nothing, it may be noted, to impress one with the idea that these are regal residences or with that truly oriental, gorgeous pomp, popularly associated in Europe with the Shah's court. There is probably no court of any importance where the style of life is simpler and more modest than at the Shah's. All the houses are, nevertheless, most comfortable, and the gardens--the principal feature of all these country places--extremely handsome, with many fountains, tanks, and water channels intersecting them in every direction for the purpose of stimulating the artificially reared vegetation, and also of rendering the places cooler in summer.
Unlike most natives of the Asiatic continent, the Persian shows no reluctance in accepting foreign ways and inventions. He may lack the means to indulge in foreign luxuries, but that is a different matter altogether; the inclination to reform and adopt European ways is there all the same.
More forward in this line than most other Persians is the Shah's son, a very intelligent, bright young fellow, extremely plucky and charmingly simple-minded. He takes the keenest interest in the latest inventions and fads, and, like his father the Shah, fell a victim to the motor car mania. Only, the Shah entrusts his life to the hands of an expert French driver, whereas the young Prince finds it more amusing to drive the machine himself. This, of course, he can only do within the Palace grounds, since to do so in the streets of the town would be considered below his dignity and would shock the people.
At the country residences he is said to have a good deal of amusement out of his motor, but not so the Shah's Ministers and friends who are now terrified at the name "motor." The young Prince, it appears, on the machine being delivered from Europe insisted--without previous knowledge of how to steer it--on driving it round a large water tank. He invited several stout Ministers in all their finery to accompany him, which they did with beaming faces, overcome by the honour. The machine started full speed ahead in a somewhat snake-like fashion, and with great destruction of the minor plants on the way; then came a moment of fearful apprehension on the part of spectators and performers alike. The car collided violently with an old tree; some of the high dignitaries were flung into the water, others though still on dry land lay flat on their backs.
Prime Minister. General Kossakowski.]
It speaks volumes for the young Prince's pluck that, when the car was patched up, he insisted on driving it again; but the number of excuses and sudden complaints that have since prevailed among his father's friends when asked to go for a drive with the Prince are said to be quite unprecedented.
The Prince is a great sportsman and much beloved by all for his frankness and geniality.