( Masterpieces of Turkish Painting   )

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Masterpieces of Turkish Painting

The first step or the very first brick in our project to realise the "Virtual Museum", is to inaugurate a list of 125 paintings chosen from the inventory of Turkish Painting , in order to start discussions about it. The first 50 paintings are from among those realised between the years 1876-1922 and the remaining 75 are selected from the era beginning in 1923 up until 1998. The initial idea was to select the most important 75 paintings from each year of 1923-1998 period, in commemoration of the seventy-fifth year of the Republic of Turkey. But because of the difficulties and drawbacks encountered, works with dates comprising that period as fully as possible were chosen. The first difficulty encountered is the lack of dates within published material on Turkish Painting or the designation of incorrect ones. Secondarily, there is the confusion arising from disparate works produced in quite varied milieus and differing evaluations made upon them, especially in the works produced in the years after the 1940s. The third, and most significant difficulty is, apart from commentaries on a few paintings, the scarcity of appraisals on Turkish Painting History concerning the important works of each year. It can also be said that in the competitions and in the awards granted in that period, the artists' attributes mattered more than their actual works competing.

Phrases such as "Gusto", "Affinity" and "Refined Taste" used in making selections in the visual arts reflect the "Personal Nature" of the event. For this reason the list that presented here implicates a personal approach without any discussion, furthermore I am of the opinion that such selections cannot be objective. But in a platform of clashing opinions and accumulating knowledge, everybody will have the oppurtunity to develop her/his own personal taste. The final goal of this project and its consequent steps is just to create a "Central Archive of Memory" and " to exult Turkish Visual Arts" by this congregation of numerous personal approaches.

Even though subjective, the criteria used in selection:

  • The masterpiece is usually striking; it catches your eyes even if you are partly able to apprehend what affects you, and it always manages to preserve some aspects of its "mystery". Unaccustomed sizes, proportions and forms can cotribute to this effect.
  • For the most part it is "controversial"; either through its subject matter, composition, colour, dimensions, context, technique etc.. This "Unconventionality" may be striking or may not be ...
  • A masterpiece should reflect the country in which it is produced with its colours, texture, emotions, mystery and historical backgroung. This is true whether in the most plain or the most comprehensive sense. In abstract painting this can be achieved through only one selected colour or colour tone and in figurative or realistic painting through the interaction of every sort of symbols.
  • A visual work of art can increase its significance when dealing with an important event of his country,if it is eloquent and forcefull enough to carry it, yet this feature by itself alone does not make a work, a masterpiece.
  • If an artist exhibits a consistent identity and philosophy,and while organically developing his art and chronicles both his life and his country's agenda, then this output will be esteemed accordingly.
  • Works that uniquely evaluate the rich cultural and historical heritage of the Turkish People and the country's past and creative and insightful approaches extending into the future,are emphasised.
  • Works giving our country's and peoples' "location" in the past and future and implying the sources and lore of their mutual "Visual Adventure", will be given special attention.
  • Care was shown to include Artwork that were favored in the visual arts publications by art historians, researchers and critics, especially if the works in question caught the eye of several individuals.
  • Some specimens of works that have entered the mass consciousness of our people, those that bear the stamp of popularity, were also selected.
  • A masterpiece's "mystery" mostly rests on its unique way of deciphering his country's significant problems - its drama . Works that capture the essence of life and death, love, humans' life cycle, the past, the present and the future and "human anxiety" are candidates for "immortality".

    Some practical approaches used in the selection of 125 Paintings:
  • With a few exceptions, works were selected from important, well-known collections. This project was made easier due to the publication of several collection catalogues this year.
  • After selecting from catalogues works whose production dates were known, these were grouped on a yearly basis.
  • Books on artists were scanned and works considered significant and having dates supplemented the selections made from the collections.
  • Works known to have won awards, and contemporary works which were discussed and found significant by contemporary art specialists were also added to the list.
  • Works which document important historical events and personalities of our country were also taken into consideration.
  • An attempt was made to include examples which reflect the country's natural environment, its nature, geography and picturesqueness.
  • Care was taken to consider works that reflect the country's traditional culture, its life-styles and people.
  • Preference was given to works that reflect the spirit of each period and the political, intellectual and social identities and events of them.
  • The aim was to make as broad a selection as possible in depicting the visual aspects of the Turkish people over the last 125 years.
  • In determining the artists and works in accordance with the preceeding views, the aim was to achieve a whole that was as balanced as possible and which included works of both significant and lesser known artists from all periods.

    Given that the main goal was to capture the changes of mood and psycology in the Turkish society in important periods of social change, as well as documenting details and richnesses peculiar to itself , some artists works featured more on the list than others, although to select a wide scala of artists from every generation and inclination was attempted. Since the "Virtual Museum" project is geared towards "our People", "our Students" and "our Guests" (Tourists), in the interest of "easy communication", more emphasis has been given to realistic and figurative works. A complementary selection, focusing on just "Abstract Art in Turkish Painting", that will cover the years 1950-2000, will cover this area more thoroughly.

    An attempt to research the 1876-1998 period more thoroughly with differing view points and varying gustos, can be attempted by the selection of " Ten Important Work From Each Year". In this respect the confines of our 50+75=125 paintings study would be breached to achieve a much more panoramic perspective with 500+750=1250 paintings. For this reason "ten art critics within the visual arts field" can be designated to make a list of 50+75=125 and/or 500+750=1250 paintings, afterwards a workgroup of these experts can determine an inventory of 125 or 1250 artworks, based on total or partial agreement of the works compiled in the files. And that large selection of paintings could be presented to the public. The important thing is that in this way our visual arts works be supported, shared, criticised and examined with the appreciation they deserve; that can be the starting point of a tradition and the frame of reference for the production of new masterpieces.Our awareness that within its shortspan of history( about a century and a half), The Turkish Painting Tradition gave birth to masterpieces that are not inferior to any other country's and in which our country's own unique spirit is expressed is one of the most heartening results of this project.

    To represent 125 years of a society with 125 paintings in a multi-dimensional manner could only be possible, if the selected paintings themselves would have multi-faceted characters. This is especially so as the period in question incorporates part of the 600 year epoch of the Ottoman Empire as well as that of the 75 years of the The Republic of Turkey....

    In the end a rather subjective cross-section has emerged as a consequence of the way the selector looks at life and the world and what interests him more and how he interprets all this. Because a comprehensive inventory of Turkish art and of "Turkish painting" -our main field of interest here- has not been achieved yet, the inventory in question has been delineated by such criteria as pertaining to works that are "known - have in some manner been written about", published or are "works that are known privately to exist". For this reason, this first selection in the "Virtual Museum Process", will only with the participation of other critics, art historians, archivists, institutional and private collectors hopefully create a "central archive of memory " and will reveal with clear measure "masterpieces" of "Turkish painting" that have been unanimously recognised and are unarguably so.

    Very briefly I would like to relate the underlying thoughts and the statement of reasons guiding me in the selection of the 125 paintings and 71 painters in question:

    The 32 works by Osman Hamdi Bey, Seker Ahmet Pasa, Halil Pasa, Süleyman Seyyid, Sefik, Kolagasi Ahmet Sekür, Bedri Kullari, Ahmet Ziya Akbulut, Hasan Riza Bey, Müfide Kadri and Hüseyin Zekai Pasa were produced in the last years of the Ottoman period covering the I. Constitutional Monarchy Era (1876) and the II. Constitutional Monarchy Era (1908). The works selected by these artists are thought to represent a cross-section of the people, the internal and external spaces they lived in,their life styles and political views and their perspective on their history. These works feature such places as Istanbul, Bosphorus, Bursa, Erenköy, Gebze, Sultanahmet, Garden of Yildiz Palace and Bostanci Beach; they portray aristocratic Ottomans and their ladies, fishermen, woodcutters and beggars. In this period the rich tradition of Ottoman art is reflected in the interior spaces portrayed by the painters, whose own views on art and their aim of producing for the European Art Market is very apparent... We begin to encounter the questions raised back in those years concerning Western and Ottoman life styles, secularism and the religious state in the works of those artists, who spent years living in Paris, as in Osman Hamdi Bey's " Mihrab" (Altar) and "Türbe Ziyareti" (Visit to the Tomb ) paintings.

    The paintings from the 1908-1922 period reflect a changing society, the sufferings of The First World War and different cross-sections of Ottoman society. While Avni Lifij's "Kadiköy Belediyesi Imar Çalismalari (Public works in Kadiköy Municipality), Hikmet Onat's, Çalli's, Namik Ismail's "Sisli Atölyesi Resimleri" (Pictures from Sisli Atelier) represent formal Ottoman society and the state; Avni Lifij's "Kendi Portresi" (Self-portrait), Feyhaman Duran's "Ressamlar Grubu" (Group of Painters), Namik Ismail's "Mediha Hanimin Portresi" (Portrait of Lady Mediha), Ömer Adil's "Kizlar Sinifi" ( Girls Class ), Nazli Ecevit's "Keriman'in Portresi" (Portrait of Keriman), Müfide Kadri's "Sahilde Ask" (Love by the Seaside) and "Piknik" (Picnic), Hoca Ali Riza's "Adada Piknik" (Picnic on the island), Caliph Abdülmecit's "Saray'da Beethoven" (Beethoven in the Palace) reflect successfully the lives of the community of that time and provide hints of their philosophies of life. Also from the same era are Nazmi Ziya's "Sabah" (Morning) -a description of dawn in a Turkish city quarter- and Sevket Dag's "Harem Dairesi" (Harem Quarter), which documents an aspect of life in one of Topkapi Palace's most secret wings...

    The first painting chosen from the Republican Era is Namik Ismail's "Harman" (Harvest), a work popularly embraced by the Turkish society as a whole, which was also reproduced in various poster forms to be embedded in the national visual memory. The period between 1924-1939 bears the stamp of the revolutionary reforms and the man who was the driving force behind them : Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. This is reflected in the field of painting by the selection of the works of such artists like Nazmi Ziya's "Atatürk", Mehmet Ruhi's "Fatih Kaymakamligi" (Fatih District Office) and "Atatürk'e Istikbal" (Greeting Atatürk), Turgut Zaim's "Dogu ve Bati Halkinin Atatürk'e Tesekkürü" (Thanking of the People of East and West To Atatürk), Cemal Tollu's "Alfabe Okuyan Köylüler" (Villagers Learning the Alphabet), Seref Akdik's "Atatürk Telgraf Basinda" (Atatürk Telegraphing), Bedri Rahmi's "Ilk Geçen Treni Seyreden Köylüler" (Villagers Watching the First Passing Train), Malik Aksel's "Yeni Mektep" (New School) and Zeki Kocamemi's "Atatürk'ün Cenaze Töreni" (Atatürk's Funeral).

    The "National Liberation War" that ended with victory is commemorated and documented in Avni Lifij's "Field Marshal Fevzi Çakmak", Zeki Kocamemi's "Mekkare Erleri" (Mekkare Soldiers) and Ali Çelebi's "Silah Arkadaslari" ( Military Friends ).

    The field of portraiture is one of the irreplaceable, important and difficult branches in painting. Especially in a country which is the melting pot of numerous traditions and cultures, and in which "Transformation from Emperorship to National State" is occuring, portraits painted will be very striking in that they will reflect the settlement of various accounts with the old order and give glimpses of the new. The field of portraiture is very appropriate to this kind of utilisation. The love that Osman Hamdi Bey bares for the younger generation is narrated in "Çekik Gözlü Kiz" (Girl with Slanting eyes), whose subject is his niece Tevfika. In 1906, four years before his death, it is as if he is bidding farewell to his wife in "Mimozali Kadin" (Woman with Mimosas), perhaps giving voice to his love for his wife forcefully for one last time. Seker Ahmet Pasa's and Avni Lifij's portraits seem to stare right into the eyes of the beholder and say: "Here, this is me, and I want to be remembered with this image." In his painting entitled "Yasli Halayik"(The Old Woman Servant) Halil Pasa immortalised an old female servant, who may have had a hand in raising him and at the same time created one of the best images of the sorrow of old age in painting. Hikmet Onat's "Kasnak Isleyen Kadin" (Woman with embroidery hoop) which employs his wife as the subject, Nazli Ecevit's "Keriman'in Portresi" (Portrait of Keriman), one of Hale Asaf's important self-portraits, Nuri Iyem's "Adalet Cimcoz Portresi" (Portrait of Adalet Cimcoz) showing an important intellectual of Turkey and the Maya Art Gallery event in one image, the portraits by Orhan Peker that have immortalised with peerless mastery two contemporary artists "Asik Veysel" and "Aliye Berger", Alaattin Aksoy's disturbing and mysterious "Üç Ressam" (Three Painters) which competes with Feyhaman Duran's "Sanatçi Dostlar" (Painter Friends) - all these works merit careful, meticulous consideration. One of the most important subjects of today's world is woman and man relationships or wars between these two genders, from past to present some of the art works that bring a retospective look to this matter are Halil Pasa's "Uzanan Kadin" (Woman reposing), Namik Ismail's "Sedirde Uzanan Kadin (Woman reposing on a Sofa) and "Mediha Hanim'in Portresi" (Portrait of Lady Mediha), Ibrahim Çalli's "Sapkali Kadin Portresi" (Portrait of a Woman with a Hat), Ali Çelebi's "Maskeli Balo" (Masked Ball), Edip Hakki's "Isinan Kadinlar" (Woman Warming Up), Cihat Burak's "Incili Kiz" (Girl with Pearls) and "Our First Lady" , Mehmet Güleryüz's "Çift" (Couple).

    Another important and unique genre in Turkish painting is the series made up of picturesque landscapes featuring the Bosphorus and Anatolia: examples of these can be seen in Osman Hamdi Bey's "Gebze'den" (From Gebze), Kolagasi Ahmet Sekür's "Bursa'dan Çekirge" (Çekirge, from Bursa), Halil Pasa's "Balikçilar" (Fishermen) and "Deniz" (Sea), Ali Cemal's "Yük Indiren Gemi" (Ship Unloading Cargo), Namik Ismail's "Mehtapta Cami" (Mosque at Moonrise), Hikmet Onat's "Findikli Sahili" (Findikli Coast), Nazmi Ziya's "Mavnalar" (Barges), Eren Eyüboglu's "Sali Pazarindan" (From Tuesday Market), Sami Yetik's "Ankara Saman Pazari" (Ankara Hay Market), Turgut Zaim's "Yaylada Yörükler" (Yörüks at Summer Plateau), Esref Üren's "Karadenizli Analar" (Mothers from Blacksea Region), Nejad Melih Devrim's "Halikarnas" (Halicarnassos), Mustafa Esirkus's Analar" (Marketplace), Cevat Dereli's "Balikçi Dükkani" ( Fishmonger's Shop ), Turan Erol's "Mavi Tekne Iskeleti" (Blue Boat Skeleton).

    As for examples of "Still Life"; Osman Hamdi Bey's "Vazo'da Çiçekler" (Flowers in a Vase), _eker Ahmet Pa_a's "Still Life", Süleyman Seyyid's "Portakal" (Orange) and "Lale ve Fulyalar" (Tulips and Jonquils) and Muhittin Sebati's "Paltolu Natürmort" (Still-Life with Overcoat) are selected.

    Selections made from the "Abstract Inclinations" in Turkish painting - spanning from the 1940s to the present are as follows: Ferruh Basaga's "A_k" (Love), F.Zeid's "Kompozisyon" (Composition), Aliye Berger's "Istihsal" (Production), Cemal Karaburçak's "Kizilcahamam'dan" (From Kizilcahamam), Nejad M. Devrim's "Buhara", Sabri Berkel's "Kompozisyon" (Composition), Ömer Ulu_'s "Pervane" (Moth), Adnan _oker's "Mistik Simetri" (Mystical Symmetry), Erol Akyava_'s "Kerbela" and "Hallac-i Mansur".

    Erol Akyava_'s works also aims to reach a "settlement/ compromise" with Islamic religion, whereas the piece selected from Nejad Devrim is named after a city which is in the region of Central Asia : the homeland of the Turks.

    The always powerful centralised and authoritarian structure of the state provided a critical atmosphere and it had an important effect on Turkish Painting. In some paintings this is seen very clearly, but in some others this is barely felt, but very little research has been accomplished to analyse such messages in paintings. For example, Osman HAMDI BEY'S "Kaplumbaga Terbiyecisi" (Turtle Trainer) where turtles that are used in garden entertainments and their trainer are taken as the subject of the picture - plainly because of their authentic and unique imagery. Or is there a critical approach behind this work dispatching messages to some places? Cemil Cem's "Veliefendi Çayiri" (Veliefendi meadow) - by a caricaturist who was forbidden to publish his magazine, depicts the scorching expression and defiance of an artist. I sense in Mahmut Cuda's allegorical "Haramiler" (Robbers), a settlement of accounts with certain colleagues of his.
    Neşet Günal's "Bunalım I" (Depression I), "Duvar Dibi III" (Foot of the Wall III) and Nedim Günsür's "Kizamik" (Measles) and "Gecekondu Yikimlari" (Tearing Down of Slum Housing" are representatives of a movement seeking the rights of the poor , and their works condemn the governing groups and criticise them. Cihat Burak's "19 Mayis 1960" (19 th of May, 1960), "Sair'in Ölümü" (The death of The Poet) , "Baskomutan" (Commander-in-chief), "Meydan Muhaberesi" (Pitched Battle), "Actions" (Eylemler) with Zeki Müren in Roman dress, "Our First Lady" which portrays Semra Özal - are important both as socio-political critiques of the 1940-1990 period and as masterpieces that reflect the visual sensibility of that era. Burak won the Bronze Medal at the International Exhibition of the Paris Modern Art Museum with his work "Hayal Donanma" (Imaginary Navy), where subject is the ferociousness of men throughout all the ages . This work is a mysterious and different creation which has something to offer to every viewer. Artists such as Aydin Ayan with his "Patron ve Elektrik Iskencesi" (Boss and Electrical Torture), Mevlut Akyildiz's with his "Deve Güresi" (Camel Wrestling) which takes a cross-sectional look at that portion of society, Senol Yorozlu's "Kutsal Adam ve Muhafizlari" (Holy Man and the Bodyguards) aims to settle accounts with the 12th September Military Intervention and the burdensome elements in society, Kasim Koçak reflects on the 1994 crisis and the ensuing fragmented political scene with the rise of extremism in "Lodosçu'nun Seyir Defteri" (Logbook of the Beachcomber), Yavuz Tanyeli looks at the rise of fanaticism in the world with "Cellatli Irtica" (Fundamentalists with Executioner) and Hakan Gürsoytrak's work "Madimak" where the painter comments on a community that can be so insensitive to the burning of 37 people - all these works express Turkey's Uncensored Realities.

    There are also paintings that do not seem to fit in a certain niche, yet some of these are able to establish interesting parallels between them. One of these is Osman Hamdi Bey's work, in which he and his son Edhem Bey are the subject, the work is entitled "Silah Taciri" (Merchant of Arms) and can be contrasted side by side with Ne_et Günal's "Baba-Ogul" (Father-Son) painting which also depicts two generations, but of a Central Anatolian family. What an amazing contrast they create, an enthusiastic young writer should write about these two pictures... In two pictures the whole story of "From the Ottoman Empire to The Turkish Republic" or "Istanbul and Anatolia" or "Fathers and Sons"...

    Mehmet Ruhi's "Tasçilar" (Stonecutters) from 1924 is a first example of a field more widely pursued in the 1940s... Muhittin Sebati's "Paltolu Natürmort" (Still-life with Overcoat) is an immortal commemoration to that artist's tragic life... Nazmi Ziya's "Karacaahmet" is a singular painting that embodies his life-story and captures his emotional state... its incredible colouring and light are controversial and mysterious... Hamit Görele's "Müzik" (Music) is not only a fantastic success as a painting, but with its rich alliances it is much more attractive to the viewer...

    Fikret Mualla's "Barda Iki Figür" (Two Figures in a Bar) is a reminder of Turkish Painters bond with "PARIS", as well as a symbol of the "Bar Phenomena" that started in the 1960s and multiplied surprisingly after that.

    Nuri Iyem's "Nalbant" (Blacksmith), Avni Arbas's "Kuvay-i Milliyeciler" and Orhan Peker's "Atlar" (Horses) are all very different interpretations of this animal, that is so significant and inseparable from the history of Turkish nomads...

    Nese Erdok's "Yurtta Sulh Cihanda Sulh" (Peace at Home, Peace in the World) is a different and sad commentary on Atatürk that focuses on his loneliness and singularity...

    Burhan Uygur's "Kapi" (Door) is the diary of his colourful life.. When he was embroidering his masterpiece in his narrow studio, which he called his suffering-room , Burhan was watching a documentary film about the Uygur Turks, and was saying that he was watching his ancestors and learning from them, perhaps he hoped to dive to the depths of his own genes while narrating his life's story in that picture.

    On the trail of Paintings, Painters, Mysteries, Questions; with the help of coincidences, luck, curiosity and research, the above mentioned paintings I encountered on my way...In my own house when I find a more beautiful, mysterious and important work than the ones I have, I take down one and hang the new one in its place; the same can be done with the list proposed here, but I think nowadays it is time to start an evaluation of Turkey's masterpieces...

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