Mansoureh Hosseini was born in 1926 in Tehran. One winter day when she was ten, she drew one of the pine trees in their garden in her notebook. This drawing prompted her father to hire a painting tutor. After obtaining her high school diploma she enrolled in Tehran University’s Faculty of Fine Arts. She made her debut at the Anglo-Iranian Cultural Society in 1949 and graduated in Painting from the Faculty of Fine Arts the same year. Mansoureh Hosseini left Iran for Italy in 1954 to continue her studies. Prior to her departure, she exhibited her works in several solo and group exhibitions. The Rome Academy of Fine Arts accepted her as a second-year student. Hosseini debuted at the Venice Biennale in 1956. The Galleria Del Vantaggio in Rome held an exhibition of her works in 1957. She participated in an exhibition of figurative arts in Frosenone and won the first prize. Participation in the exhibition of “Asian Painters in Rome” in 1958 won her a scholarship. Then she sent a number of her most recent works to Tehran for the First Tehran Painting Biennial, where one of her works was awarded as an outstanding painting. Hosseini also met Leonello Venturi, the celebrated Italian art expert and critic. This was a turning point in her artistic career. The fresh colours and arabesque lines were reminders of Iranian calligraphy to Venturi, who encouraged her to focus on abstract painting employing Iranian calligraphy. In the years which followed, Hosseini’s works were displayed in different exhibitions and won medals. After Hosseini completed her studies in Rome Academy of Fine Arts in 1959, she returned to Iran and exhibited her works in Reza Abbasi Hall. Her works won awards in the 2nd and 3rd Tehran Painting Biennials. An exhibition of her paintings and ceramic works was put together in 1962 at Tehran’s Farhang Hall. These abstract works were a combination of forms and colours; forms whose nucleus seems to have been inspired by Kufic script. In 1965, Mansoureh Hosseini displayed 30 of her canvases, the “Two Flowers” selection, which was a depiction of two flowers. Hosseini began writing critical articles for the “Today’s Art” page of the Etela’at newspaper under the pen name Dr. Asad. It seems her goal has been to educate the public, but her tone is usually harsh and she makes bitter remarks. She published her story, “Muddy Boots”, in 1971. Then in 1973, the opening of the Mansoureh Hosseini Gallery unveils a selection of her works. The gallery, where the artist resides, is still open to visitors. Her works were being displayed at her gallery and other galleries during the years after the revolution. In 1997 during the closing day of the 4th Iranian Painting Biennial, artists, including Ahmad Esfandyari, Mahmoud Javadipour, Mansoureh Hosseini and Ali Qahari, were applauded as pioneering artists. A retrospective show was held for Mansoureh Hosseini at the Niavaran Cultural Centre next year. She was selected as a member of the jury for the 5th “Manifestation of Feelings” exhibition.
Mansoureh Hosseini is known for being an artist who has followed both figurative and abstract approaches in painting, in parallel and in relation to each other. She draws upon her knowledge of the western modern figurative tradition in depicting flowers, landscapes and portraits, but in abstract and semi-abstract compositions, she inclines toward traditional Iranian visual elements, including calligraphy and rhythmic curves. What links these apparently varied approaches are her poetical sentiments, knowledge of the language of painting and her commendable ability to select harmonious colours.
Mansoureh Hosseini first studied at Tehran University’s Faculty of Fine Arts and then at the Accademia di Belle Arti (Academy of Fine Arts, Rome). She was in Rome from 1954 to 1959 – a period when Italy’s art was beginning to flourish again.
When Mansoureh Hosseini first set foot in Rome, Realist, Expressionist and Abstract tendencies were everywhere and the legitimacy of the figurative or abstract art was the subject of discussion in all circles. There were many young and enthusiastic artists who were bewildered by this tumultuous atmosphere and who chose a path that only seemed easy. In the midst of this, Mansoureh managed to build a solid artistic foundation, relying on her capabilities and relentless efforts. She began with the Scuola Romana or specifically moderate Expressionism. During the years that followed the war, Roman school of art, especially works by Mafai, inspired many Roman artists. Mafia would discover the beauty of a withered bouquet of flowers, an abandoned house or a dry landscape in a poetical manner where vibrant colours would overshadow form. It was the quality of the colours that gave his works the melancholic appearance. Many artists of Rome carried on his lyrical style and loose, quasi-expressionist brushwork. Mansoureh Hosseini soon adopted this approach to figurative painting. Yet she did not neglect studying the works of other masters. Simplification of the form of objects (influenced by Guttoso), proper use of colour quality and thick application of paint enabled her to go beyond representing the manifestations of nature. But most importantly, she made her newfound learnings compatible with her poetical sentiments.
Mansoureh Hosseini was therefore able to establish herself as a professional artist in Rome and numerous masters and critics of figurative painting praised her works. Painter and critic Fossani wrote: “Her colouring is very rich and pleasing. The composition of her works is based on solid and thick paint and these colours justify the poetical sentiments of the painter. The themes of her works are all fanciful and rhythmic.”
She had a meeting with Venturi during her last year in Rome and showed him her paintings. Venturi was a professor at Rome University, an effectual critic and proponent of abstract art. In a firm expression of his opinion, Venturi considered Mansoureh’s painting 50 years behind contemporary art and suggested she use Kufic calligraphy. The words of the old master were shocking, as he had explicitly questioned all the effort and success of the young artist. Apparently, it was after this encounter that Mansoureh decided to try abstract painting and application of calligraphy in her works. She has repeatedly recounted the meeting with Venturi and his suggestion in these words: “Calligraphy in contemporary Iranian painting began with Venturi’s remark.”
The fact is that, after returning to Iran, Mansoureh Hosseini used simple shapes and curves and angular lines that were faintly similar to Kufic elements in her abstract compositions. In early 1961, many Iranian painters were preoccupied with the art and tradition of calligraphy. Mansoureh, who considered herself a pioneer in this style, decided to depict the Kufic elements in her works more distinctly. About the same time she wrote:
“What I have obtained from Kufic script is not the exact script or even an imitation … I have wanted the movement, repetition, silence and composition and the colours framing the script to show a tranquility, or run away in fright from a terrifying revelation; to enter the domain of darkness and disappear from sight, or swim in an hazy atmosphere of lights; to depict a moment of prayer or that of a sad dance. I am not an abstract painter. I have only attempted to change my creatures.”
These words point to the fact that she is attracted to the expressive, and not decorative, capacity of letters and words. In fact, since Mansoureh paints spontaneously and with poetical motives, for her, abstract signs have the same evocative significance as actual forms. Only the “creatures” of her paintings change. However, in Mansoureh’s works colour is more expressive and communicative than line; sometimes linear values are lost in the vibrancy of colours. Indeed, the expressiveness of her “calligraphic painting” reaches its zenith the moment when line and colour are united. We have repeatedly witnessed such moments in the course of Mansoureh Hosseini’s career.