Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Osman Hamdi Bey

Osman Hamdi Bey (1842 - 1910) is well known in Turkey as the pioneer of Turkish painting.  He was also a bureaucrat and an archaeologist.  The Pera Museum hosts a special exhibit on him and two University of Pennsylvania archaeologists whose lives intersected in excavations at Assos in Turkey and Nippur in modern day Iraq.
 Osman Hamdi Bey was born in Gebze (not far from Istanbul)  and later sent to Paris to study law.  But his interests were soon focused on painting, which he did during his entire life.  Here is "A View From Gebze" completed in 1881.
As a bureaucrat, he had several jobs, one being the director of the Imperial Museum beginning in 1881.  During his tenure in this position, he oversaw the building of Istanbul's Archaeology Museum, established laws requiring all excavated artifacts to remain in Turkey, gave permission to foreigners to excavate and led excavations.  He is pictured here posing on one of the giant statue heads during his excavation at Nemrut in 1883.
 Two professors of the University of Pennsylvania, Haynes and Hilprecht, were among those granted permission to excavate in the Ottoman lands by Osman Hamdi Bey.  Haynes photographed the excavation at Assos, Turkey and was field director at Nippur, Iraq.  Hilprecht was director of the excavation at Nippur.  The University of Pennsylvania owns two paintings of Osman Hamdi Bey from this time period.  "At the Mosque Door" (1891) depicts men and women in period clothing.  Osman Hamdi Bey often used himself as a model for the figures in his painting.  He is several of the men in this painting.
 The painting is quite large as it hangs next to "The Fountain of Life" (1904).
Closeup detail from "The Fountain of Life".
 The University of Pennsylvania commissioned a painting of the Sumerian site at Nippur, "The Excavation at the Temple Court in Nippur" (1903).  Hilprecht is painted into the picture in the lower right looking at the pottery.
 I and others appreciate the paintings from Pennsylvania loaned for this exhibit.  They speak well of the cooperation between Osman Hamdi Bey and the professors of archaeological work.  And seeing them here in Istanbul saved me a trip down the PA turnpike extension!

Osman Hamdi Bey's most famous painting, known to all modern day Turks, is "The Tortoise Trainer" (1906) and here again, he used himself as the model for the main figure - the human one, that is.   This painting has it's permanent home in the Pera Museum.  
This exhibit continues at the Pera Museum until January 8, 2012.

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