As part of the 140th year celebration of the Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University, one of the most established universities in the country, a unique exhibition takes viewers on a journey of the life and career of Osman Hamdi Bey
When higher education in fine arts is mentioned in any conversation in Turkey, the first state institution that comes to mind is naturally Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University (MSGSÜ), which lies on the shores of the Fındıklı neighborhood in Istanbul’s Beyoğlu district. The pioneering school not only offers an education that combines different disciplines but also raises the leading artists of the country.
MSGSÜ is celebrating its 140th anniversary with plenty of events including workshops, talks and exhibitions this year. The events started with the launch of the school’s central library, which was renovated in line with the design of Turkish architect Sedad Hakkı Eldem, in the beginning of March. On the occasion of the reopening of the library, the family of famed Turkish poet Edip Cansever bestowed some of the poet’s books along with his desk, glasses, handwritten notes and typewriter. The personal belongings of the literary figure will be permanently on display in a corner of the library, which will turn into a living venue with various activities to be organized during the rest of the year.
The celebratory events, however, are not limited to the central library. Before diving into the details of some of these spectacular events, which will continue all year, let’s take a quick look at the history of MSGSÜ for some deeper insight.
MSGSÜ was founded under the name of “Sanayi-i Nefise Mektebi” on Jan. 1, 1882, when Sultan Abdülhamid II officially appointed renowned Turkish painter, art historian, archaeologist and museum curator Osman Hamdi Bey as the director of the institution. As Osman Hamdi thought that this very first art school in the Ottoman Empire should be close to the Istanbul Archaeology Museums, architect Alexandre Vallaury constructed a building for Sanayi-i Nefise Mektebi just opposite the main entrance of the museum. Starting the education of young students in this small building with five classes and a workshop, the institute, however, needed bigger spaces to meet the needs of the increasing number of students over time.
Therefore, in later periods, the school was transferred to many different buildings, including the language school in Cağaloğlu. Meanwhile, an art school for female students was also opened in Zeynep Hanım Mansion in Eminönü in 1914. The teaching staff of this school was mostly provided by Sanayi-i Nefise Mektebi. In 1926, the two institutions merged, and the Twin Palaces in Fındıklı, which were the former Ottoman Parliament Buildings, were allocated to the school. The school was renamed the Academy of Fine Arts in 1928 and Mimar Sinan University in 1982. Since 2004, it continues to teach the artistic minds of the country under the name of Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University in historical palaces.
A tribute to Osman Hamdi Bey
Among the 140th anniversary events, the most attention-grabbing one was an exhibition dedicated to Osman Hamdi Bey, the founder of MSGSÜ. Named after the master artist, the exhibition showcases his paintings, diplomas, certificates and the materials he used while painting in the MSGSÜ Istanbul Painting and Sculpture Museum.
The “Osman Hamdi Bey” exhibition is the most comprehensive show ever prepared and opened for the famous artist. During their visit, enthusiasts first learn about the personal history of Osman Hamdi Bey and continue to discover his works separated into three sections: “landscape,” “portrait” and “orientalist paintings.” The latest part of the show offers an insight into Osman Hamdi Bey’s world with his personal painting items and does visitors proud with the showcase of the artist’s honorary certificates.
Born as the eldest child of an Ottoman statesman, Osman Hamdi Bey studied at the School of Law in his youth. But his interest in painting made him abandon law, and Osman Hamdi started to study under French painter Gustave Boulanger and exhibited paintings in Paris between 1866-1868. When his son failed to graduate from the department of law and instead devoted his time to art, Osman Hamdi Bey’s father, Ibrahim Edhem, summoned him back to Istanbul. After a short time upon his arrival, Osman Hamdi Bey was sent to Baghdad as a foreign affairs attache, which provided him with an opportunity to know the Eastern world closely.
After he returned to Istanbul, Osman Hamdi Bey served in various official posts, including deputy director of the Department of Foreign Protocol, director of the Foreign Correspondence Department and director of the Foreign Press Department. He, however, once again abandoned his career in civil service for his love of painting.
After the director of the Imperial Museum in Istanbul, Philipp Anton Dethier, died, Osman Hamdi Bey was appointed as the director of the museum this time. With his direction, the museum reached equal standards with European museums. And the Imperial Museum carried out various excavations and showcased the unearthed findings for enthusiasts again during his post. Osman Hamdi, later in 1882, was appointed as the director of the newly founded Sanayi-i Nefise Mektebi and continued both his positions until his death in 1910. In addition to his duties, he also continued to paint without interruption throughout his career.
Osman Hamdi Bey created his Orientalist paintings in an academic style, while his smaller-scale portraits are more naturalistic. His rare landscapes bear impressionist influences.
Osman Hamdi painted famed Orientalist works, like “The Dervish at the Children’s Tomb” – showcased at the exhibition – for European buyers and never exhibited such works in Turkey apart from some unique exhibitions. He used Oriental decors and spaces that appealed to European viewers, in these works. What differentiated his paintings from other leading Orientalist artists like Jean-Leon Gerome was that he was telling his own world and culture in these works. His paintings, where every element was reflected like an ethnological document, were more realistic for European enthusiasts as they were painted by an Ottoman and Muslim artist. Indeed, his Orientalist oeuvre did not include exaggerated nudeness, violence and eroticism that are attributed to the Eastern world in European artists’ works. They, instead, offered a glimpse into the daily life of the Orient with figures dressed in Eastern style.,
When it comes to the portraits of Osman Hamdi Bey, it may be appropriate to say that these depictions of his family members and friends are the painter’s most sincere works. In the MSGSÜ exhibition, apart from his “An Italian Girl” and “Boy Wearing a Fez,” other portraits depict his wife Naile Hanım, his daughter Nazlı, his son Edhem and his cousin Tevfik. Unlike his Orientalist paintings made for European viewers, these works are generally made up on smaller scales. However, “Woman with Mimosa,” which is the favorite of the MSGSÜ exhibition, draws attention with its bigger size among the portraits. And the fact that it depicts his wife Naile Hanım on such a bigger canvas increases the romantic value of the work.
Other works showcased in the exhibit comprise landscapes of Osman Hamdi Bey. The artist was actually not a landscape painter and painted very few landscapes, unlike his contemporaries. In his landscapes, he depicted Baghdad, Saida, Gebze and Eskihisar. However, Sultan Abdülhamid was an admirer of his landscapes. Therefore, he appointed Osman Hamdi as a court artist and commissioned a painting of a large landscape.
Enthusiasts may visit the “Osman Hamdi Bey” exhibition at the Istanbul Museum of Painting and Sculpture to understand the oeuvre of the famed artist with a deeper insight until the end of the year.
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