The period between the proclamation of the Tanzimat Edict in 1839 and the First Constitution of 1876 witnessed a series of reforms designed to regulate the political, social, and economic structure of the Ottoman Empire in a Western sense. During his reign, Sultan Abdülmecid (r. 1839-1861) continued the modernisation process commenced by his father, Sultan Mahmud II (r. 1808-1839), not only initiating significant changes in government and education but also enabling the development of an innovative cultural scene during the Tanzimat era. Sultan Abdülmecid was an accomplished calligrapher as well as a statesman and commissioned a Western-style portrait of himself by the artist Ferik İbrahim Paşa (1815-1891), the first soldier painter to go to Europe for artistic training. This new process of modernisation that still maintained respect for Ottoman traditions was, therefore, present in the sultan’s very person.

Sultan Abdülaziz (r. 1861-1876), was interested in both calligraphy and painting, and was a keen patron of the arts. He initiated the Sergi-i Umûmî-i Osmânî (the Ottoman Exposition), an international fair held in Sultanahmet Square in 1863. Visiting the 1867 Paris Universal Exposition, Sultan Abdülaziz also became the first Ottoman sultan to travel to Europe for non-military purposes. During his reign, several soldiers trained in painting at the military academies were appointed to direct arts at the court. They received the title of Yaver-i Şehriyâr-i Hümâyun, indicating close personal service to the sultan. Abdülaziz’s yaver (aide-de-camp), the soldier painter Şeker Ahmed Paşa, advised the sultan in establishing the first imperial painting collection at the Dolmabahçe Palace. Sultan Abdülaziz also broke the previously held prejudice against figurative sculpture, becoming the first and only sultan to commission an equestrian statue of himself, made by English sculptor Charles F. Fuller and cast in bronze. European artists invited to the palace at this time may have had a limited audience, but they also had broader cultural contact and influence outside of the court. New palaces built throughout the nineteenth century in line with Western tastes, such as the Dolmabahçe, Beylerbeyi, Çırağan, and Yıldız, required new interior decoration schemes in accordance with the new way of life inspired by the West, and Ottoman rulers quickly commissioned foreign artists to work on murals, oil paintings, and even sculptures.



The nineteenth century saw the reorganisation of the social and political structure of the Ottoman state within a Western framework, and also served as a backdrop for an increased interest in painting at court. The way sultans in this period approached the medium of painting directly affected its acceptance and popularity at the public level. With the Ottomans turning to the West for inspiration, cultural exchange intensified, paving the way for European painters who came to Istanbul to meet the demand for exoticism in the West. The palace also commissioned foreign painters to satisfy the new interest in painting on canvas. While some were invited specially by the court, others presented their works to the sultan and were awarded the High Medal of Honour and various gifts. One of the pioneers of Ottoman Westernisation, Sultan Mahmud II (r. 1808- 1839) commissioned portraits from European painters, his son Sultan Abdülmecid (r. 1839-1861) had portraits painted by both Western and local artists, and more Western artists were appointed in the palace during the reign of Sultan Abdülaziz (r. 1861-1876).

Among the artists employed by the court was Polish artist Stanisław Chlebowski (1835-1884), who worked on the interior decoration of the Beylerbeyi Palace and who was named court painter in 1864. The French artist Pierre-Désiré Guillemet also arrived in Istanbul in 1864, invited by Sultan Abdülaziz, and founded the first Ottoman painting academy in the district of Pera in 1874. The Italian painter Fausto Zonaro was deemed worthy of the title of Ressâm-ı Hazret-i Şehriyârî (Painter to His Highness the Sultan) by Sultan Abdülhamid II, and was appointed to the position in recognition of his accomplishment in painting The Ertuğrul Cavalry Regiment, presented to the sultan in 1896. In addition to being the court painter under Abdülhamid II, Zonaro made great contributions to the creation of a new artistic environment in Istanbul, opening numerous exhibitions and teaching in his painting studio, which was open to the public. While the Armenian-Russian painter Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky did not receive the official title of court painter, he visited Istanbul many times between 1857-1890, was commissioned to produce works for the palace, received several medals of different ranks, and left an indelible mark on the social and cultural life both inside and outside of the Ottoman court.




Painting was one of the main branches of art that went through major changes during the Tanzimat era. This period also saw European architectural styles such as baroque, rococo, empire, and neoclassical, gain popularity, while engagement with Western literature paired new literary genres such as theatre, short story, and the novel with concepts like the motherland, nationality, and equality. The tendency towards Western painting, which led to a decrease in the interest in miniatures in the eighteenth century, continued to rise throughout the nineteenth century. During this period, image production in the Ottoman Empire shifted from miniatures in manuscripts and murals, to works on canvas and new genres such as portraits, landscapes, and still lifes. Ottoman painters like Osman Hamdi Bey and Halil Paşa, who went to Paris and attended studios at the École des Beaux-Arts, became interested in figural representation, and in portraiture by extension. At a time when paintings on canvas mostly focused on imperial portraiture, these artists increasingly turned to ordinary subjects in their immediate surroundings. These works often featured women, thus hinting at a new era of female visibility in Ottoman society following the Tanzimat era.

While Osman Hamdi and Halil Paşa mainly focused on figural representations, soldier painters of the same generation or the next, such as Süleyman Seyyid and Şeker Ahmed Paşa, placed more emphasis on painting in a technically realistic manner, turning to landscapes and still lifes to demonstrate their skill.




The first Western-style art lessons under Ottoman rule began in military schools, where painting and drawing classes were introduced as part of training in cartography. These were later added to the curricula of civilian schools. At military schools such as the Imperial School of Military Engineering (1795), the Imperial School of Medicine (1827), and the Ottoman Military College (1834), as well as in civilian institutions such as the College of Public Administration (1859), the Imperial School (1868), and the Dârüşşafaka school for orphaned Muslim children (1873), painting classes taught by European masters promoted a new interest in this branch of art. The Ottoman court’s support of artistic development was solidified during the reign of Sultan Abdülaziz (r. 1861- 1876), when young students, mostly from military backgrounds, were sent to Europe to continue their education in fine arts. Military school graduates Şeker Ahmed Paşa and Süleyman Seyyid went to Paris on state scholarships between 1861-1871. Halil Paşa, who was sent to Paris by the state in 1880, was also a graduate of the Ottoman Military College. Osman Hamdi Bey, who did not have a military background, was sent to Paris by his father in 1860 to study law. Once there, he began to attend various painting studios and trained as a painter. After the Academy of Fine Arts was founded under Osman Hamdi Bey’s directorship in 1883, talented young artists continued to travel westwards. In this early phase of Turkish painting, Ruhi Arel, İbrahim Çallı, and Hikmet Onat were among those who took the European scholarship examinations and studied art abroad. Members of the same generation, Nazmi Ziya Güran, Hüseyin Avni Lifij, Feyhaman Duran, and Namık İsmail, went to Europe with the support of their families or private scholarships.

The early generation of Turkish artists who went to Europe in the late nineteenth century trained in the prestigious studios of Jean-Léon Gérôme, Gustave Boulanger, Isidore Pils, Gustave Courtois, and Alexandre Cabanel at the École des Beaux-Arts. Those who went in the early twentieth century, whether financed by their families or the state, mainly studied with Fernand Cormon at the École des Beaux-Arts or with Jean-Paul Laurens at the Académie Julian.


The first high school founded in the Ottoman Empire following the example of Western educational institutions, the Imperial School (the Galatasaray High School) held particular historical significance due to its effects on social life. Underlying the foundation of the school was the emphasis that Sultan Abdülaziz placed on raising well-equipped statesmen following the Tanzimat reforms, and on the introduction of a new high school curriculum for this purpose.

The Imperial School opened on 1 September 1868, and was based on the French secondary school curriculum. Its aim was to train personnel who could implement the new reforms, and who spoke foreign languages. In addition to creating the opportunity for students from different religions to take lessons side by side, it chose French as its primary language of instruction. The Imperial School not only provided its students with the theoretical and scientific foundations of Western life but also contributed to the cultural life of Istanbul through the activities it organised and hosted over the years. The Galatasaray Exhibitions, which the Society of Ottoman Painters initiated in 1916, was one such event.

Taking part in the Galatasaray Exhibitions, which were prepared by a jury each year and followed the basic tenets of the Salon Exhibitions in Paris, was considered necessary to become a professional painter. The first exhibition, in which 49 artists participated with 190 works, was held during the First World War, in 1916. It opened under the auspices of Prince Abdülmecid Efendi at the Società Operaia di Istanbul, which functioned as the clubhouse of the alumni organisation. The halls of the high school itself were preferred for the next exhibition, held in 1917. The Society of Ottoman Painters held all its exhibitions until 1952 at the school, which was renamed the Galatasaray High School after the declaration of the Republic. As the longest-running painting exhibition in Turkey, the Galatasaray Exhibitions serve as testimony regarding the history of Turkish painting. The society continued under new names, such as the Society of Turkish Painters, and then the Sanâyi-i Nefîse Birliği and the Güzel Sanatlar Birliği (both meaning ‘the Association of Fine Arts’ in two overlapping generations of Turkish). From 1923 onwards, they organised the Ankara Painting Exhibitions in parallel with the Galatasaray Exhibitions, and these were held continuously until 1980.

These painting exhibitions that began during the First World War created new opportunities for the public presentation of the visual and plastic arts, though this was not their sole purpose. Offering some of the works for sale also enabled the creation of an art market in Istanbul, where there were no art galleries at the time.




Military schools, founded in the eighteenth century in line with efforts to reform the army, aimed to provide a Western-style education and laid the foundations for institutionalised painting training under Ottoman rule. The Imperial School of Naval Engineering, established in the Haliç Shipyard in 1773 to train naval officers, included geography and cartography in its curriculum, following developments in these fields in Europe. Technical drawing, thought to have entered Ottoman schools for the first time during this period, was recorded as an official course at the Imperial School of Military Engineering when it opened in 1795. Artistic knowledge was not the focus of such classes, which taught drawing and perspective and imparted necessary technical information on artillery, engineering, and cartography. With the establishment of the Military Academy after the abolition of the Janissaries under Sultan Mahmud II, painting lessons gained new meaning. Documents from the administration of Minister of War Selim Satı Paşa (1837- 1841), who gave great importance to education at the school, reflect that the engraving artist Joseph Schranz was a member of the faculty. Painting lessons entered the curricula of military high schools in 1851, and French artist Pierre Guès taught charcoal and oil painting both at these institutions and at the Military Academy from 1846 to 1887.

The new practice of sending students abroad, in line with this reformist approach to education, soon affected the field of art. Ferik İbrahim Paşa, one of the four graduates of the Imperial School of Military Engineering, was sent to London and then Paris in 1835, and his work is considered a turning point in the adoption of Western technique in Ottoman painting. Ferik Tevfik Paşa and Hüsnü Yusuf are also among the first generation of Ottoman artists who graduated from military schools and were sent abroad.

With the Tanzimat (1839) and Islahat (1856) decrees, reforms towards a more Western education system became more widespread, providing the basis for sending more students to Europe. Military school graduates Şeker Ahmed Paşa and Süleyman Seyyid attended lectures at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris in the 1860s, with Halil Paşa following in the 1880s. Together with Hüseyin Zekâî Paşa, Hoca Ali Rıza, and Ahmed Ziya Akbulut, who were also educated in military schools, these artists are referred to as the second generation of soldier painters on the path leading to the 1914 Generation.




The growing desire to make art into public discourse during the early twentieth century took shape through individuals who took advantage of the new freedoms afforded by the Second Constitutional Monarchy of 1908 to create a professional organisation. The idea for the Society of Ottoman Painters began with Ruhi Arel, who assembled his friends at his home in the Şehzadebaşı district of Istanbul. Among those who attended these meetings were Sami Yetik, Şevket Dağ, Hikmet Onat, İbrahim Çallı, Hoca Ali Rıza, and Ahmed Ziya Akbulut. Most of the initial members were recent graduates of the Academy of Fine Arts, while others were teachers at various institutions. Many had also passed through the Imperial School, either as teachers (Şevket Dağ and Viçen Arslanyan) or students (Feyhaman Duran and Namık İsmail). While not all the artists of the era were involved, the Society had a notably wide reach, counting artists from military backgrounds (Hoca Ali Rıza, Sami Yetik), independently trained artists (Hüseyin Avni Lifij, Namık İsmail, Nazmi Ziya Güran, and Feyhaman Duran), as well as women (Mihri Hanım and Müfide Kadri), sculptors (İzzet Mesmur), and printmakers (Midhat Rebii) among its members. The Society became economically viable under the patronage of Prince Abdülmecid Efendi, himself a painter. From 1916 onwards, the group organised the Galatasaray Exhibitions, which became a showcase for new artistic developments. The association was renamed the Society of Turkish Painters in 1921, the Sanâyi-i Nefîse Birliği in 1926, and the Güzel Sanatlar Birliği (both meaning the ‘Association of Fine Arts’ in two overlapping generations of Turkish); finally ceasing its activities in the 1940s.

As the first professional artistic association under Ottoman rule, the Society of Ottoman Painters published eighteen issues of the Journal of the Society of Ottoman Painters between 1911-1914. The journal’s primary aims were to serve as a forum to discuss the role of art in society, to provide information about the history and techniques of art, to provide monographic information about important Ottoman artists, and to advertise the Society of Ottoman Artists centre, which included the first permanent sales-oriented gallery in the Empire. While practitioners of traditional arts were not members of the organisation, the journal included articles on calligraphy and illumination (tezhip). Although many members went to Paris for their education soon after its foundation, they continued to participate in the art discourse back home, sending letters and sketches from Paris, and taking part in the Galatasaray Exhibitions.




While Ottoman miniatures are not generally known for their depictions of nudity, there is an under-acknowledged but significant body of images produced from the second half of the seventeenth century onwards, mainly album folios representing male and female figures in various states of nudity. What is today known as ‘the nude,’ however, is a modern concept and signifies a turning point in the process of renewal and transition from the Ottoman Empire to the Turkish Republic. In Turkish painting, the figure reached a state of full nudity as the result of a very gradual process.

When the Academy of Fine Arts opened in 1882, it offered its students limited opportunities to work from live models. Indeed, there were no female models at all. Muslim Ottoman painters only encountered the nude as an artistic subject when they travelled abroad for their studies, mainly to train in the academic style at various state and private studios in Paris. For these painters, who primarily produced landscapes and still lifes, seeing the nude figure as a subject in itself rather than merely an object of study was not only an artistic issue but also an expression of a radical cultural change.

The Galatasaray Exhibitions were the first venue at which Ottoman painters of Muslim-Turkish origin turned to the nude, moving away from landscapes, still lifes, and portraiture and towards depictions of boating, sunbathing, and sea baths. Throughout the history of these exhibitions, however, nudes were still exhibited far less frequently than other genres. Furthermore, the number of nudes consistently shown by the same artists throughout the 1920s and 1930s decreased considerably in the 1940s. Some of the paintings that İzzet Ziya exhibited regularly from the first Galatasaray Exhibition in 1916 onwards reveal that showing the male nude may have been possible earlier than the female nude.

The nude paintings executed and exhibited by İbrahim Çallı, Namık İsmail, Melek Celal Sofu, Hikmet Onat, and Feyhaman Duran during the 1920s mark the beginning of a new historical process. The development from Halil Paşa’s figurative studies that reflect an academic studio discipline to İbrahim Çallı’s sensuous nudes portrayed with expressive sensitivity can be considered the first steps of a radical shift in attitude.




During the process of Ottoman Westernisation, largely shaped by the legal foundations of the Tanzimat (1839) and Islahat (1856) decrees, women’s education first began in the domestic realm of upper-middle-class families. It gradually became institutionalised, through the first midwifery courses (1843) at the Imperial School of Medicine, the first girls’ high school in Sultanahment (1858), the Yedikule School of Fine Art for Girls (1869), and the Teacher Training School for Girls (1870). This period of transformation in the field of education also witnessed the beginnings of the women’s movement, which gained momentum in the environment of freedom provided by the declaration of the Second Constitutional Monarchy in 1908. Volunteer nursing in the First Balkan War (1912-1913) was yet another factor that heightened female visibility in society.

The Academy of Fine Arts for Women was founded in 1914, in the building of the Dârülfünûn (Istanbul University). With the initiative of the painter Mihri (Müşfik) Hanım, this new school opened as a branch of the Academy of Fine Arts, aiming both to train women in the field of fine arts and to train teachers for new girls’ high schools. In the following years, a sculpture studio was also opened within the school.

Among the students who enrolled in the Academy in its first year were Hoca Ali Rıza’s daughter Hamide (Çizen) and Ömer Adil’s daughter Şevket. Salih Zeki Bey (Halide Edip’s husband) became the first director of the school. Ali Sami Boyar and Mihri (Müşfik) Hanım, who would also serve as the director for a term, opened studios in the painting department.

At the Academy of Fine Arts for Women, Dr. Nureddin Ali Berkol gave lessons on anatomy, Vahid Bey and later Ahmed Haşim lectured on art history and aesthetics, and Ahmed Ziya Akbulut taught perspective, while Ömer Adil, Cemil (Cem) Bey, and Feyhaman Duran served as directors. The institution was merged with the men’s school when the Republic was declared in 1923, and together they were renamed the Academy of Fine Arts.




The 1914 Generation constituted a turning point in the history of art in Turkey and played an active role in popularising the art of painting during the transition from the Ottoman Empire to the Republic. The artists of this generation, most of whom were graduates of the Academy of Fine Arts, either took the European entrance examinations held by the school from 1909 onwards, or applied to private scholarships to study abroad, mainly in Paris. The ‘1914 Generation,’ which included İbrahim Çallı, Nazmi Ziya Güran, Hüseyin Avni Lifij, Feyhaman Duran, Namık İsmail, and Hikmet Onat, was so named because its members were forced to leave Europe at the outbreak of the First World War.

These painters, many of whom went to Paris and attended the studios of the Académie Julian, were only able to take part in the studios at the École des Beaux-Arts as observers, due to the restrictions imposed on foreign students during this period. After they returned from Europe, the 1914 Generation joined the faculty at the Academy of Fine Arts, which now implemented the basic tenets of art education in France, and played a decisive role in the early stages of the development of painting in the country. Having taken part in the foundation of the Society of Ottoman Painters in 1909, they also increased their activities in this group upon their return. The Galatasaray Exhibitions, which were held by the society with the intense participation of the 1914 Generation, continued after the declaration of the Republic and became the longest- running painting exhibition in the history of art in Turkey.




A distinguishing characteristic of the 1914 Generation, the harbinger of a new artistic identity at a time when the Second Constitution was freeing up individual rights and freedoms, was the quality of the education its members received abroad. The creative environment in Paris had changed in the 40 years since Osman Hamdi Bey and Şeker Ahmed Paşa’s studies, and genres other than academic painting had gradually become more popular. Impressionism, no longer considered to be at the forefront of artistic innovation, was now officially recognised and exhibited in museums such as the Luxembourg and the Louvre.

Fernand Cormon, whose studio at the École des Beaux-Arts the artists of the 1914 Generation attended during this period, was also interested in Impressionism, despite producing academic paintings. Jean-Paul Gervais and Jean-Paul Laurens, who had studios at the Académie Julian, the other school of choice for Ottoman students in Paris, provided an education based more on historical and academic tradition. In addition to the academic instruction they received, the Impressionist paintings in Paris museums and salons, which reflected the effort to capture a particular light and its effects in the atmosphere through colour, became a determining factor for the 1914 Generation. Thus, inspired by Impressionism rather than the avant-garde art of the time (such as Cubism and Expressionism) they began to paint Istanbul en plein air upon their return, forming their interpretations within the framework of Impressionism.




The Academy of Fine Arts for Women was established in 1914 as a result of Mihri (Müşfik) Hanım’s efforts, providing women with their first opportunity to work from live models. The artist came up with innovative ways to find models for the school, of which she was the director for a while. She persuaded the Belarussians who came to the city in 1917 to escape the Soviet Revolution and women she encountered at public baths to fill this role. Mihri Hanım also developed a creative solution to the institution’s hesitation to provide nude models, encouraging students to work from marble torsos she borrowed from the Imperial Museum (the Istanbul Archaeological Museums) instead.


Ömer Adil (1868-1928), Girls’ Studio, 1919-1922, oil on canvas, 81 x 118 cm, MSFAU, Istanbul Museum of Painting and Sculpture Collection




The Association of Independent Painters and Sculptors was the second artists’ union established in the history of painting in Turkey, and the first to be founded after the declaration of the Republic in 1923. The Independents were part of the generation trained by the first Turkish art instructors, including İbrahim Çallı, Feyhaman Duran, and Hikmet Onat, who replaced the foreign masters at the Academy of Fine Arts. In 1924, many of these artists left to study abroad, either by passing the European scholarship examination or by their own means. In 1928 Namık İsmail, the deputy director of the Academy of Fine Arts, called each of them back from France and Germany, asking them to return so that the students who had passed the European scholarship examination that year could take their place. They returned the same year, before their education was complete. On 15 July 1929, they came together as a group, publishing their charter as the Association of Independent Painters and Sculptors. The group took its name and its philosophy of enabling the freedom of each member’s individual conception of art from La Société des Artistes Indépendants (the Association of Independent Artists), which was still active in Paris at the time. Mahmut Cûda, one of the founding members, explained why they took the name as ollows: ‘The reason why we are called “the Independents”: to free and support artists in creating works in line with their artistic sensibilities, but to protect our common rights and privileges as artists.’

The association mounted its first exhibition at the Ethnographic Museum in Ankara and the second at the Turkish Hearths in Istanbul in 1929. They were extremely influential in the promotion and popularisation of Turkish painting, especially through the exhibitions they held both in Turkey and abroad. Reacting, to a certain extent, to the artistic sensibilities of the 1914 Generation, which positioned itself closer to Impressionism, and in search of a more robust approach to sketching and form, the Independents continued to focus on producing landscapes, still lifes and figural compositions, but also turned to scenes of daily life from time to time. Upon their return, they were unable to find employment at the Academy of Fine Arts because their instructors were unwilling to include modern art in the Academy’s curriculum. Many of them entered the faculty only after the French painter Léopold Lévy (1882-1966) was appointed head of its painting department in 1937. Refik Fazıl Epikman, Cevat Dereli, Şeref Akdik, Mahmut Cûda, Nurullah Berk, Hale Asaf, Ali Avni Çelebi, Zeki Kocamemi, and Muhittin Sebati were all members of the Independents group, which is considered to have laid the foundations for modern art in Turkey.




The d Group was founded in 1933 by the painters Nurullah Berk, Zeki Faik İzer, Cemal Tollu, Elif Naci, Abidin Dino, and the sculptor Zühtü Müridoğlu, representing the new artistic generation of the Republic along with the Association of Independent Painters and Sculptors from which it emerged. As the fourth artists’ group in the history of art in Turkey, established after the Society of Fine Arts (formerly the Society of Ottoman Painters), the New Painters Society, and the Association of Independent Painters and Sculptors, they adopted the fourth letter of the Latin alphabet as their name.

The group held its first exhibition in 1933 at the Mimoza hat store in Beyoğlu Narmanlı Han, and, with the addition of new artists, continued its activities until 1951. They mounted fifteen more shows, the last of which was in 1960. Among the artists who joined the d Group after its establishment were Turgut Zaim, Bedri Rahmi Eyüboğlu, Eren Eyüboğlu, Sabri Berkel, Fahrelnissa Zeid, and Zeki Kocamemi. Members of the group assumed active roles in the Academy of Fine Arts when Léopold Lévy was appointed Head of the Painting Department in 1937. Léopold Lévy and Rudolf Belling, Head of the Sculpture Department at the Academy, each took part in the group’s exhibitions once.

Most members of the group attended various studios in Paris, and were particularly influenced by André Lhote’s cubist and structuralist forms, as well as Fernand Léger’s synthetic cubist approach. They opposed the academic impressionism of their mentors, the artists belonging to the 1914 Generation. Founded in the tenth year of the Republic, at a time when there was a desire to give a new and national direction to artistic and cultural events in line with nationalist and populist sentiments, the group adopted an artistic sensibility in line with these policies.