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Artists' Index
Encyclopedia of Modern Art and Arab World
موســــوعة الفـن الحديـــث والعالــم العربـــي
Artists' Index

Abdul Qadir al-Rassam

عبد القادر الرسام
Abdul Qadir al-Rassam
Abdel Kader; Abd; Abd al-Qadir

​Born in 1882 in Baghdad, Iraq; died 1952 in Baghdad, Iraq.

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Abdul Qadir al-Rassam


Abdul Qadir al-Rassam was part of the first generation of modern Iraqi painters. He stands at the core of a group of artists trained in Istanbul who brought their artistic knowledge back to their home country. This group of soldier-artists is credited with introducing easel painting to Iraq at the turn of the century. Working in a realist style, al-Rassam is known for his sweeping landscapes, immaculate portraits, and faithful portrayals of everyday life in Iraq. He is one of the most prominent and prolific painters in Iraq's modern art history and his work heavily influenced the generations that followed.

Al-Rassam was among a group of Iraqi officers to study military science and art in Istanbul. He began his education around 1904 when the Ottoman Empire was still the main power in the region. As part of his education in Istanbul, al-Rassam and his classmates were required to produce paintings or drawings for military use. These images adhered to a strict European academic style. Eager to cultivate their new skill, these officers sought out private art training. Al-Rassam himself studied under a number of prominent painters living in Istanbul who worked in contemporary French styles. Although he is most recognizable as an oil painter, al-Rassam experimented at this time with watercolors representing Istanbul with its crowds and markets. Even at this early stage in his career, the painter showed expert skill and a conscientious eye. Al-Rassam's ambitions were interrupted by the outbreak of WWI. Directly following the war, when the group of soldier-artists returned to Iraq, al-Rassam again took up easel painting. Along with his colleagues, he focused on landscapes, military scenes, and archaeological sites. 

An important characteristic of this initial generation was their desire to stimulate awareness and appreciation of the arts amongst the Iraqi population. Al-Rassam taught painting lessons out of his studio in Baghdad and encouraged young artists to continue their art training abroad. Due to this early artistic proselytizing, al-Rassam became hugely influential to the following generations of artists. The painter's interest in promoting art awareness was further realized when he became an honorary member of the Society of the Friends of Art, a group that sought to cultivate public interest in art making and to enhance their own skill through interaction.    

Utilizing the same academic style as his early colleagues, al-Rassam painted with a crisp realism capturing vistas of the Iraqi countr​yside. The clarity found in oil paints is employed to its fullest advantage by the artist, who is known for his mastery of perspective and detail. He oftentimes painted panoramic views of historical sites along the Tigris River. The ruins of Ctesiphon or the Great Mosque of Samarra were particularly notable representations in al-Rassam's oeuvre. Indeed the Tigris River was itself the central theme of many of al-Rassam's canvases. Winding as it recedes through an expert use of atmospheric perspective, the river and the activities surrounding it compose a vast, yet serene, landscape.

Al-Rassam was also to a lesser extent a portraitist. One of his well-known portraits is of Mohamed Darouich al-Allousi, completed in 1924. The bearded sitter gazes out at the viewer with a directed stare. He is set against a background of clouds that are ever-present in most of al-Rassam's canvases. The subtleties of the face show the painter's mastery of modeling and the poignant gaze reflect his skill as a keen observer. The portrait exhibits the same attention to clarity and detail as al-Rassam's landscapes.

A collection of al-Rassam's works was held at the Pioneers Museum in Baghdad and the Iraqi Museum of Modern Art until the destruction and the looting of the collection of the museum in 2003. He also created a mural for the entrance of a movie theater in Baghdad, The Royal Cinema. This was the first large-scale work of art to be displayed on a public building. Later in his life, the artist travelled to Italy, France, Germany, and England to expand his knowledge of art.



Awards and Honors

Made an honorary member of the Society of the Friends of Art


Realism, portraiture, Pioneers Museum, Istanbul, Baghdad, mural painting, atmospheric perspective, archaeological sites, Society of the Friends of Art, Iraqi countryside, WWI, Tigris River, oil paintings, landscapes, Iraqi Museum of Modern Art.


Ali, Wijdan. Modern Islamic Art: Development and Continuity. Gainsville: Florida University Press, 1997.

Bahrani, Zainab and Nada Shabout. Modernism and Iraq. New York: Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery, Columbia University Press, 2009.

Faraj, Maysaloun, ed. Strokes of genius: Contemporary Iraqi art. London: Saqi Books, 2001.

Inati, Shams C, ed. Iraq: Its History, People, and Politics. New York: Humanity Books, 2003.

Jabra, Jabra I. The Grass Roots of Iraqi Art. Jersey: Wasit Graphic and Publishing Limited, 1983.

Mudaffar, May. "Iraq​." I​n Contemporary Art from the Islamic World, edited by Wijdan Ali. Amman: The Royal Society of Fine Arts, Essex, England: Scorpion Publishing, 1989.

Further Reading

Merzaban, Daliah, ed. Re:Orient: Investigating Modernism in the Arab World 1950s-'70s. United Arab Emirates: Barjeel Art Foundation, 2013.

"Modern Art Iraq Archive." Last modified January 2014.

Pocock, Charles. Modern Iraqi Art: A Collection. Dubai: Meem Gallery, 2013.

Romaya, Bassam. "Iraq and the Question of Aesthetics." International Congress of Aesthetics (2007), 1-15.

Saad, Qassim. "Contemporary Iraqi Art: Origins and Development." Scope: Contemporary Research Topics (Art & Design, 2008) 3, 50-54.

Shabout, Nada. Sajjil: A Century of Modern Art. Exhibition catalogue. Doha: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Qatar Museum Authority, 2010.