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Osman Hamdi Bey : The first Turkish Painter and Archaeologist

Osman Hamdi Bey : The first Turkish Painter and Archaeologist


The first Turkish Painter and Archaeologist

The founder of the İstanbul Archaeological Museum, painter and archae-ologist Osman Hamdi Bey is certainly one of the most important Turkish artists and art experts. He discovered the Alexander Sarcophagus at the Saida (Sidon) royal tombs excavations in Lebanon in 1887-1888. Consid-ered the greatest archaeological discovery of the 19th century it was the cause of the museum‘s foundation. Osman Hamdi Bey was born on 30th December 1842 in İstanbul as the eldest son of Ottoman Grand Vizier İbrahim Ethem Pasha. In compliance with his father’s wish, he went to Paris to study law where he stayed for 12 years.

He took painting lessons from famous French painters, Jean-Léon Gérôme and Boulanger. During the same years, two other Turkish painters, Şeker Ahmet Pasha and Süleyman Seyyid were also studying painting in Paris. Those three painters were later going to form the first generation of Turkish painting artists.

Osman Hamdi Bey was assigned to high-level public offices upon his return to Turkey. His first assignment was the post of Director of Foreign Affairs in the Province of Baghdad. During his stay there, he painted various paintings reflecting city views of Baghdad, he was also involved in archaeological and historical studies on Baghdad. Upon his return to İstanbul, he took office as the Deputy Chief of Protocol of the Ottoman Court. In 1875, he was appointed the first Mayor (Şehremini) of Kadıköy, where he was active for one year.

Following the Ottoman-Russian War (1877-78), he resigned from public office, but he was appointed Director of The Imperial Museum (Müze-i Hümayun) in 1881. One year later, Osman Hamdi Bey was assigned Director of the Fine Arts School (Sanayi-i Nefise Mektebi).

Author of the first museums’ legislation in Turkey

He decreed a regulation prohibiting the taking out of the country of old works of art during the time he was Director at the Imperial Museum. During the same period, he initiated the first official Turkish archaeological excavations. He led the excavations at Mount Nemrut, Lagina in Muğla Yatağan and Saida (Sidon) in Lebanon.

He crowned his work through the creation of museums

Osman Hamdi Bey, having made significant discoveries as a result of his excavations began to look for an adequate building to display the artefacts he discovered. First exhibition hall for those pieces was the former Aya Irini Church, later they were transferred to the Çinili Köşk (Tiled Pavilion). However, neither was spacious enough for this purpose.

Finally, he convinced the Ottoman Government to build what became the present-day İstanbul Archaeological Museum. The former Imperial Museum had become a museum mainly allocated to archaeology, the weaponry and military equipment belonging originally to its collections remained at Aya Irini and were re-organized under the name of ‘Esliha-i Askeriye Müzesi’ (Military Mu-seum).

That new building, constituting the basis of the current Military Museum was inaugurated in 1908. The storage halls set up outside İstanbul in various Anatolian towns by Osman Hamdi Bey constituted the basis of the regional museums to be established later. At the Fine Arts School, he collected at the Main Hall the artwork produced by his students to form the nucleus of the later established present-day Museum of Fine Arts.

First Turkish figurative painter

Osman Hamdi Bey, while he kept himself busy with archaeology and museums, never abandoned his passion for painting. He was the first Turkish painter to compose a figurative painting. In his paintings, he depicted the ideal type of enlightened Turkish intellectuals and emanci-pated women he was looking forward to see in his country.

As background he used the historical buildings and historical objects as accessories. His best-known original paintings are the “Turtle Trainer” (1906) and the “Arms Merchant” (1908) which continue to draw great attention and provoke enthusiasm. His paintings are on display at various museums, particularly at the “İstanbul Museum of Painting and Sculpture” and museums in London, Liverpool and Boston. Osman Hamdi Bey died in 1910 and was buried in Eskihisar upon his will. Two anonymous Seljukian steles were erected in lieu of his tombstone.

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