Sakıp Sabancı Museum


The period between the proclamation of the Tanzimat Reforms in 1839 and the First Constitution of 1876 witnessed a series of reforms designed to bring about Westernisation of the political, social and economic structure of the Ottoman Empire. During his 22-year reign (1839-1861) Sultan Abdülmecid continued the process of modernisation commenced by his father Sultan Mahmud II, not only setting his signature to major changes in the spheres of government and education, but allowing an innovative cultural atmosphere to flourish. Sultan Abdülmecid was an accomplished calligrapher, whose inscriptions can be seen in a number of mosques in Istanbul, and a statesman who commissioned a Western-style portrait of himself by the artist Ferik İbrahim Paşa. He therefore symbolises a process of innovation that maintained respect for Ottoman traditions. His successor and younger brother Sultan Abdülaziz was interested both in the art of calligraphy and painting, and during his reign (1861-1876) was a keen patron of the arts. Advised by the military painter Şeker Ahmet Paşa, he established a magnificent collection of paintings at Dolmabahçe Palace. One of the foremost innovations during Abdülaziz’s reign was the Sergi-i Umumi-i Osmani (Ottoman Exposition) held in Sultanahmet Square in 1863. During this period European painters such as Ayvazovsky, Preziosi and Chelebowski worked for the Ottoman palace, and in 1874 Guillemet opened the first art academy in the district of Pera, Istanbul. Sultan Abdülaziz broke the traditional prejudice against figurative sculpture, becoming the first and only sultan to commission an equestrian statue of himself, which was cast in bronze.
The years 1839-1876 were a time when Ottoman architecture featured a mixture of the baroque, rococo, empire and neogothic styles found in the cities of Europe, western literary forms like theatre, short stories and novels were introduced to Turkish literature, and concepts like homeland, nationhood and equality first made their appearance in Ottoman intellectual life. This was a period of innovation in many spheres, painting being one of the most notable. Traditional Ottoman miniature painting had begun to reflect the growing interest in Western painting in the 18th century, and in the 19th century was largely abandoned in favour of paintings on canvas, particularly portraits, landscapes and still-lifes. Ottoman painters like Osman Hamdi Bey and Halil Paşa, who trained under Western European painters in the academic tradition such as Jean-Léon Gérôme and Gustave Boulanger, became interested in portraiture. At a time when Ottoman portraiture was restricted to portraits of the sultans, they were the first to portray ordinary people, above all their own friends and family members. Their early portraits of women mark the beginning of a new visibility for women in Ottoman society after 1839.
The first institutions to teach western-style art in the Ottoman Empire were military colleges, where drawing classes were introduced as a part of training in cartography. Later on civilian schools also added art lessons to their curricula. Art lessons given initially by European teachers began at the Royal School of Engineering in 1795, followed by the Military Medical College in 1827, the Military Academy in 1834, the College of Public Administration in 1859, the Royal School in 1868 and Darüşşafaka (School for Orphans) in 1872. As a result many young people became interested in drawing and painting. The Ottoman palace sup-ported developments in art, and state scholarships were provided for the most talented students from military schools to continue their art education in Europe. Among them were Şeker Ahmet Paşa and Süleyman Seyyid, who both studied in Paris. Others were financed by their families, such as two other leading Ottoman artists of the period, Osman Hamdi and Halil Paşa. After the Academy of Fine Arts opened in Istanbul in 1883 talented young artists continued to study in Europe. Ruhi Arel, İbrahim Çallı and Hikmet Onat were among those who passed the examination and were awarded scholarships. While the early generations of Turkish artists who went to Europe in the late 19th century trained in the studios of artists like Gérôme and Boulanger, those who went in the early 20th century, whether financed by their families or the state, mainly studied either at the Fernand Cormon studio at the Paris Academy of Fine Arts or at the Julian Academy.
When the Academy of Fine Arts opened in 1883, drawing from live nude models was impossible. Indeed female models of any kind were not allowed. Turkish painters only became acquainted with the nude as a subject of art when they went abroad to study, particularly at the state and private studios in Paris that provided an academic art training. Turkish painters concentrated primarily on landscape and still-life, and seeing the nude figure not as just an object of study but as a genre in itself, was the expression of momentous cultural change. Halil Paşa’s figurative studies reflecting an academic studio discipline and İbrahim Çallı’s sensuous nudes portrayed with expressive sensitivity are the first steps in a process involving a radical shift in attitudes.
The young Ottoman artists who went to Europe to study art in 1909- 1910—principally at the Julian Academy in Paris—were obliged to return home at the outbreak of the First World War and so became known as the 1914 Generation. They included such leading painters as İbrahim Çallı, Nazmi Ziya, Avni Lifij, Feyhaman Duran, Namık İsmail and Hikmet Onat, who played an important part in the spread of such genres as landscape and still-life in Turkish painting. Another striking aspect of their work is the way their paintings reflect their own impressions and personal interpretations. Owing to their pure colours and sensitivity to light, these painters are sometimes described as the Turkish Impressionists. Almost all of them were among the first Turkish teachers at the Academy of Fine Arts in Istanbul and so were active in training the next generations of Turkish artists.
The Ottoman Society of Painters was established in 1909 by artists including Ruhi Arel, Sami Yetik, Şevket Dağ, Hikmet Onat and İbrahim Çallı, under the patronage of the last Ottoman caliph Şehzade Abdülmecid Efendi (1868-1944), who was himself a painter. The society was an independent body that came into being in the new liberal atmosphere following the proclamation of the Second Constitution in 1908. It was dedicated to spreading interest in art and awareness of painting as a profession in Ottoman society. Later on artists like Feyhaman Duran, Hüseyin Avni Lifij and Müfide Kadri joined the society, which was the first professional association of artists in Ottoman Turkey. Between 1911-1914 the society published 18 issues of a periodical titled the Journal of the Ottoman Society of Painters. From 1916 onwards the society organised the Galatasaray Exhibitions, which became the showcase for new developments in the art world and principally featured works by the young artists known as the 1914 Generation who had returned after studying at the Julian Academy in Paris. In 1921 the society was renamed the Turkish Society of Painters, and later changed its name twice, to the Association of Turkish Fine Arts in 1926 and finally to the Association of Fine Arts. In the 1940s, however, the society went into decline and lost its influential status in the Turkish art world.
The Independents were the first generation of young painters to be taught by Turkish teachers such as İbrahim Çallı, Feyhaman Duran and Hikmet Onat, who were the successors of foreign teachers at the Academy of Fine Arts. Those students who went to Europe for further studies in 1924, either on a state scholarship or by their own means, returned home in 1929 and founded the Association of Independent Painters and Sculptors. This was the first society of artists to be established after the founding of the Turkish Republic in 1923. The new gro­up of artists held their first exhibition at the Ethnographic Museum in Ankara in 1928, and the second at the Turkish Association in Istanbul in 1929. The association played a highly influential role in arousing public interest in Turkish painting both at home and abroad. Partially in reaction to the style of the 1914 Generation, whose work had a close affinity with Impressionism, the Independents sought more solid draughtsmanship and form. Although they continued to focus on landscapes, still-lifes and figurative compositions, they occasionally port­rayed scenes from daily life. Members of the Independents group like Refik Fazıl Epikman, Cevat Dereli, Şeref Akdik, Mahmut Cuda, Nurullah Berk, Hale Asaf, Ali Avni Çelebi, Zeki Kocamemi and Muhittin Sebati are regar­ded as the generation who laid the foundations of modern art in Turkey.
As a figure who remained outside the general trends and artistic groupings within the development of Turkish modern art, Fikret Muallâ is an independent and eccentric figure of Turkish painting. Leaving Turkey in the late 1930’s to live for the rest of his life in France, his adopted country, Muallâ was the first artist of his generation to venture into an artistic career in the Western art world. Living a bohemian life in Paris, Fikret Muallâ expressed his observations on the city through an intense sense of colour, reflecting a melancholic mood even in the most joyous of scenes.
Sakıp Sabancı Müzesi
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