• Andy Warhol portrait of Farah Diba Pahlavi, "Farah Diba Pahlavi," 1976.

    Andy Warhol. Farah Diba Pahlavi, 1976. Acrylic and silkscreen ink on linen, 40 x 40 inches (101.5 x 101.5 cm). Photo: Mark Woods. Hall Collection, Courtesy Hall Art Foundation. © 2019 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Story May 8, 2019 New York

Warhol Women | Farah Diba Pahlavi

In 1976, Fereydoon Hoveyda, the Iranian ambassador to the United Nations, invited Andy Warhol to travel to Iran to make a portrait of the Empress, Farah Pahlavi. Warhol accepted the commission and travelled to Tehran with Bob Colacello, then the editor of Interview magazine, and later Warhol’s biographer.

The commission came about after Warhol attended a State Dinner at the White House in honor of the Shah of Iran, given by President Gerald Ford and Mrs. Ford. [1] Speaking on a panel at the Asia Society in 2013, Colacello recalled Warhol being unusually excited to attend, noting that while he occasionally dressed up his denim with a tuxedo jacket when the occasion demanded, this time he actually wore the matching trousers—pulled on over his jeans. [2] Colacello recalled Warhol’s description of the event:

“When he came back to the hotel […] he came back and said ‘Oh the Empress was so sweet, and she was so beautiful! The Shah was very cool to me—he was not that friendly!’ he said. But after dinner the Empress kept following him from room to room; he said he was running from the green room, to the red room, to the blue room because he was so afraid she was gonna ask him to dance! And later the Empress—years later—told me ‘No! I just wanted to have a conversation with him about his art!’” [3]

In 1976, Empress Pahlavi had an international reputation as a patron of the arts. After studying architecture as a young woman in Paris, Pahlavi returned to Iran where she spearheaded the creation of several museums, including the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art. The collection of Western art that Pahlavi brought together for that museum boasts work from the Impressionist era, through to Pop artists like Warhol. Estimating that the Empress likely assembled the collection for under $100M, Colacello noted in a 2013 interview with Public Radio International that it was then said to be worth $2.8B. [4]

That collection remains in the museum’s basement vaults today, where it was placed after the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution. Among the works are several of the fourteen or so portraits Colacello recalls that Warhol painted of Pahlavi. Apart from these, several more went to the Empress herself, and some are included in the famous collection of Warhol portraits that form part of the décor of New York restaurant Casa Lever. [5]

 


 

In honor of our exhibition Warhol Women, we’re sharing some of the stories behind the artist’s iconic portraits. Visit the Happenings page each week to read more!

 


Notes:
[1] Bob Colacello, interview by Shirin Jaafari, Public Radio International (PRI) The World, November 4, 2013. https://www.pri.org/stories/2013-11-04/heres-how-andy-warhol-ended-iran-during-shahs-regime.
[2] Bob Colacello on Warhol and Iran in the 1970s, video of a panel discussion featuring Bob Colacello, Layla S. Diba, and Nicky Nodjoumi at the Asia Society, New York, October 22, 2013. https://asiasociety.org/blog/asia/interview-what-it-was-travel-iran-andy-warhol-1976.
[3] Bob Colacello on Warhol and Iran in the 1970s, video of a panel discussion featuring Bob Colacello, Layla S. Diba, and Nicky Nodjoumi at the Asia Society, New York, October 22, 2013. https://asiasociety.org/blog/asia/interview-what-it-was-travel-iran-andy-warhol-1976.
[4] Bob Colacello, interview by Shirin Jaafari, Public Radio International (PRI) The World, November 4, 2013. https://www.pri.org/stories/2013-11-04/heres-how-andy-warhol-ended-iran-during-shahs-regime.
[5] Bob Colacello, interview by Shirin Jaafari, Public Radio International (PRI) The World, November 4, 2013. https://www.pri.org/stories/2013-11-04/heres-how-andy-warhol-ended-iran-during-shahs-regime.

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