Turkish impressionist painters draw influence from Monet

Turkish impressionist painters draw influence from Monet

Hürriyet Daily News
Turkish impressionist painters draw influence from Monet

For the most part it was nature that captured the interest of impressionists. With short brush strokes unique to impressionist painting they experimented with various color tones to indicate light and shadow and brought the details of nature scenes to life.

Thanks to the opening of an exhibition of work by the world-famous French impressionist painter Claude Monet at Sakıp Sabancı Museum impressionism has been the talk of the Istanbul art scene as of late. Sadly, little is known about the Turkish impressionist artists that served as Monet’s contemporaries toward the end of the Ottoman Empire.

For the most part it was nature that captured the interest of impressionists. With short brush strokes unique to impressionist painting they experimented with various color tones to indicate light and shadow and brought the details of nature scenes to life. In most of the work by Turkish impressionists we see silent places with few or no people, secluded forests, lonely beaches, streets with few passersby and deserted corners of the city.

They studied art

The first of the Turkish artists influenced by their training in France were Şeker Ahmet Paşa and Osman Hamdi Bey, although they studied art there before the beginning of the impressionist school. Both men were not just artists but also held important positions in the late Ottoman Empire. Şeker Ahmet Paşa served as a cultural advisor to Sultan Abdulmecid (r. 1861–76). Osman Hamdi Bey led excavations as an archaeologist and also established the Istanbul Archaeology Museum.

Hüseyin Zekayi Paşa is one of the more interesting Turkish painters of the 19th century. Born in 1859, he did not study in France like a number of other contemporary painters. He became the assistant of Şeker Ahmet Paşa, receiving his training from him and replacing him at the palace when he died in 1910. While it is likely that he was exposed to impressionist influences, his paintings are usually found among works labeled naïve. These three men – Şeker Ahmet Paşa, Osman Hamdi Bey and Hüseyin Zekayi Paşa - opened the way for other Turkish artists and in particular impressionists in Turkey.
 Halil Paşa was one of the so-called military painters because he first studied in a military school in Istanbul before moving on to study in Paris. While in Paris, he was exposed to the various currents that were running through the art scene of the time. Halil Paşa attended the Fine Arts School in Paris for eight years beginning in 1880. His principal teachers were Jean-Leon Gerome and Gustave Courtois. Halil Paşa emulated Gerome’s photographic style at times.

While Halil Paşa was a contemporary of Claude Monet, who lived from 1840 to 1926, it’s not clear whether the two men knew each other. Although the latter had moved away from Paris, he visited the capital frequently and met with friends and art dealers frequently. The French artist had begun to experiment with broken colors and quick, short strokes of the brush much earlier in the 1860s, although his paintings did not immediately gain popularity. It was Monet’s work, “Impression, Sunrise,” in 1872 that gave the name to the movement the artist had spearheaded – impressionism, precisely suited the artist’s intent. Even if Halil Paşa didn’t actually know Monet the artist’s work was being shown in Parisian galleries and other painters were using the same technique. The first impressionist show was in 1874 and included Monet, Edgar Degas, and Camille Pissarro among others. The critics said that the works looked unfinished, but that of course was the point. The Sakıp Sabancı Museum has some paintings by Halil Paşa.

Halil Paşa is considered the first impressionist in Turkey and painted some figures but was primarily fascinated with the sea and in particular the Bosphorus and its shoreline. The titles of some of his paintings reflect this – “Bostanci Beach,” “Morning in Çengelköy,” “Red Yalıs” and “Seagulls.” He used a palette close to that of impressionism to portray the uniqueness of the Bosphorus Strait, its still shores, the play of light and shadow to animate what was in reality a static scene that might have been captured by an out-of-focus camera.

Responsibility for influencing the others

Among the other Turkish impressionists was Hoca Ali Riza, one of the few Turkish painters at the turn of the 19th century who did not go to Paris to study. He particularly painted scenes along the Bosphorus and landscapes in general around Istanbul. Known for his mastery of charcoal and watercolor and the speed with which he worked, the artist produced some 5,000 landscapes of Istanbul during his lifetime.

Halil Paşa and Hoca Ali Rıza were responsible for influencing other, slightly later Turkish painters such as Çallı Ibrahim, Nazmi Ziya Güran and Avni Lifij. These artists used a method of painting that was close to 19th century impressionism. Like Monet these men preferred to work out doors using a style that originated in France where the painters like to set up their easels in the countryside for inspiration.

Çallı İbrahim, or Ibrahim Çallı as he is also known, was named after the village of Cal in 1882 when impressionism was becoming very popular in France and recognized as a legitimate way of painting. He was particularly interested in still life, figures and portraits but his technique seems to have been developed from the impressionists.

Nazmi Ziya Güran, born in 1881, is considered one of the better Turkish impressionist painters who spent several years studying in Paris. Unhappy with the formal teaching of painting, he spent some time studying under Hoca Ali Riza who passed to Güran his love of nature. Sometime after Güran returned from Paris, the French artist Paul Signac visited Istanbul and made his acquaintance. Signac was among the artists known as neo-impressionists who were following in the footsteps of the impressionists in pursuing the art of painting in the open air; however, the difference between the two groups was that the neo-impressionists preferred to points of pure color while the impressionists used brush strokes of pure color. Signac also was known to paint the same subject at different times of day in order to study the changing light just as Monet had done. This technique was one that Güran followed. Although the permanent Sabancı collection contains works by Güran, they haven’t been on display for quite some time. But examples of Monet’s interest in the changing light are on display in the Monet exhibition with his “The Seine at Port-Villez, Pink Effect and “The Seine at Port-Villez, Evening Effect.”

Güran’s subject matter like so many of his fellow painters depicts scenes from Istanbul, however, he was particularly fond of the morning hours before the city had fully woken up. He also liked to paint scenes when the sun was starting to set in the evening.

Avni Livij, born in 1889, is often described as a painter who writes poems with his pictures. His use of lines, form and color give his work a poetic feel. Livij studied in Paris and was able to combine technical strength with local style. In all of his works he featured Istanbul or the city’s poetic atmosphere. One subject he particularly liked was the cypress tree and frequently portrayed its melancholy splendor under the light of the setting sun. Perhaps the cypress tree, generally found in cemeteries, had more meaning for the artist than he knew. He died at the young age of 38.