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Mihir Musfik and her portrait of Ataturk

Mihri Musfik: Extraordinary Turkish Activist and Artist .

Who is Mihri Musfik?

Mihri Müşfik (Mihri meaning Sun), an unfamiliar name in the art world, left in the margins of art history; she was a pioneering female artist, trailblazer, and women’s rights advocate in the early 20th century. She significantly impacted the world of art during the late Ottoman Empire.


Born into a prominent Ottoman family in the late 19th century, Mihri Müşfik challenged societal norms and expectations to become a pioneer for women in the arts and their rights. Her dedication to elevating women’s freedom during the late Ottoman Empire left an indelible mark.

Mihri Müşfik
Mihri Müşfik

Mihri Rasim Açba, also known as Mihri Müşfik, was born on December 13, 1885, in Kadıköy, Istanbul. She was born into a privileged family, originally from the Abkhazian nobility. Her father, Prince Dr. Ahmed Rasim Pasha, was a high-ranking physician, instructor, and the Minister of Medicine during the reign of Sultan Abdulhamid II.

Her mother, Raif Sabiha Bahçelizade (died in 1891), was educated to the standards of high society, and she supported her daughter’s passion for art and ensured her proper education. Thanks to her family’s background and high social status, Mihri Müşfik had a unique and privileged life. She had access to all the resources to nurture her passion for art, and she had the freedom to travel abroad. Mihri Müşfik was an ambitious cosmopolitan young Turkish girl.

Mirhi Musfik
Young Mihri Hanim and her Father

Mihri had two siblings, Ahmet Refik her older brother and Enise the middle child, Enise Hanım was the mother of the renowned painter Hale Asaf, who was also a distinguished female artist of the late Ottoman society. Sadly, Hale Asaf met a tragic end at a young age. Mihri was the youngest.

 The Ottoman Empire:

It will help to frame the era and the changes surrounding Mihri Hanim’s live to understand her struggles. The Empire had gradually lost its international political weight, stagnating in its early glory, left behind the industrial revolution, it was know as “The Sick Man Europe“.

By the begining of the 19th century the Ottoman Empire westerniation movements was already well on the way, mostly in fashion, litterature, and new ideas. The conversation was open for changes, but women were not included.

Between 1908–1922 was a period of constant unrest from all fronts. Beginning with the Young Turk Revolution, rise of national identity, and WWI ultimately ending with the empire’s dissolution and the founding of the modern state of Turkey.

Art and Art education were only reserved to man, to receive her art education, Mihri was giving expensive art lessons and also sent to Europe.

Mihri Musfik Free Spirit:

After two years of private lessons with the Italian court painter Fausto Zonaro in his studio at 50 Akaratler Avenue in Besiktas. Mihri Müşfik had the opportunity in 1906 to study abroad in exclusive establishments such as the Académie de France in Rome and the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, a vibrant hub of artistic innovation and creativity during the early 20th century. In Paris, Mihri Müşfik rented an apartment at 52 Montparnasse Avenue.

Thanks to her family connections, she met writers, painters, and the intellectuals of the time. A free spirit, she was also engaged with the feminist movement and was a far-sighted activist for women’s education and rights. It was while in Paris that she met her future husband, Selami Musfik, who studied Political Science at the Sorbonne. Soon after, they were married, and she took on the name “Lady Mihri Müşfik.” The marriage ended after only two years.

In Paris, she was also significantly influenced by the prominent artists and movements of the time. One of her notable mentors was the renowned French artist Henri Matisse, whose bold use of color and form had a lasting impact on her artistic development.

Studying alongside Matisse and other leading figures in the art world enriched Mihri Müşfik’s perspective and artistic style.

Mihri News Articles

Mihri Musfik First Ottoman Women Art Teacher.

With the assistance of Mehmet Cavit, the Minister of Finance of the Ottoman Empire, whom she met at a party in Paris, she was offered a teaching position as a teacher of painting in Darülmuallimat (School for Teachers Education) in 1913,

A great advocate for an art school, the Art School for Women, İnas Sanayi-i Nefise Mektebi (Fine Arts School for Girls), was established on November 1st, 1914. Mihri Müşfik continued to push the boundaries of traditional Ottoman art, while women were not officially accepted as students in state academies in Europe and many other countries. She was elected as the first female teacher and then director of the university within the Ottoman Empire.

With her progressive education approach, she introduced live nude drawing classes and plein-air painting sessions; she enabled many female artists, such as Nazlı EcevitAliye Bergerand Fahrelnisa Zeid, to flourish

At the age of 17th, Mihri Hanim, breaking all conventions, ran away to Rome to meet her musician lover, causing a great scandal; the family hid the truth by claiming it was for her studies. After returning to Istanbul in 1912, Mihri Musfik divorced and married İbrahim Zeki Bey, an artist and supporter of her work.

In 1913, she was appointed an art teacher at the Dârülmuallimât, a Teacher Training School for Girls. Mihri played a vital role in establishing the Academy of Fine Arts for Women in 1914, which aimed to provide art education to female students.
She believed that anyone, regardless of gender, should be able to express themselves creatively through art. She succeeded Salih Zeki Bey as the first female director of the Academy.

Mihri Rassim Musfik works on her portrait of President Franklin Roosevelt in 1932. He was one of many powerful men who were subjects of her portraits. (The New York Times)


1920: Mihri Hanim spent time in London, Madrid, and Vienna, where she entertained and associated with elite members of high society. In 1927, she moved to New York, where she had several shows and gave lectures on the advancement of women in art.

She exhibited her paintings at a solo show at the Georges de Maziroff Gallery. During her long career, Mihri painted portraits of many prominent figures. Her works of the period included portraits of the 32nd President of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt, inventor Thomas Edison, and poet Edwin Markham, as well as first Turkish President Mustafa Kemal Atatürk,

In 1923, her close friend poet Gabriel D’Annunzio introduced Müşfik to Pope Benedict in Vatican City. She was the first Muslim painter who painted a Pope ( Pope XV Benedict). This painting is now exhibited in the Vatican Museum.

When her close friend, the poet Tevfik Fikret, created the first death mask in the Ottoman Empire

Amount some of her most famous works include “Woman Dancing,” “Portrait of a Lady,” and “Still Life with Flowers.” Her paintings are characterized by their expressive use of color, dynamic compositions, and emotional depth.

Mihri Müşfik’s work can be found in museums and galleries worldwide, including Le Louvre in Paris and the Istanbul Modern Art Museum. Besides her works, her private correspondence and her interviews published in the press are testimonies that allow us to retrace a strong personality and uncover details of her life, as well as the Pera Museum.

She was the first Ottoman woman to fight for the betterment of Ottoman women’s education. She was not only a pioneering female artist but a Feminist working to break the constraints put on women in all aspects of their lives.


Mirhi Musfik became a U.S. citizen.

Mihri Müşfik lived during a time of multiple historical turns: World War I ( WWI), the economic depressions, new technological advancements, the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire, and finally, the creation of the new Republic of Turkey in 1922.

On October 23, 1942, Mihri Rasim, aged 43, filed for an application for naturalization to be an American citizen; the application shows that she is an artist and teacher and that she lives with her husband Salvatore Virzi at 1947 Broadway, NY.

Later, she purchased a property in Long Island, in Mastic Acres, a new residential area on the east side of Long Island; it is her last known residence, number 27 McGraw Street in Shirley, New York, 11967.
During her life in New York, she continued to give lectures, designed magazine covers, taught private art classes, and accepted commissions.

The Rumor about her Death and Finances.

In 1988, Taha Toros (1912-2012) published his book “İlk Kadın Ressamlarımız.” Using an excerpt from a letter Mihri Musfik addressed to her niece’s paternal aunt Rasim, the painter Hale Asaf (1905-1938), in which Rasim declares her remorse for choosing her artistic path; subsequently, all authors have recycled these few lines as factual.

The entire letter was her expressing her struggles and difficulties breaking through the art world. She was concerned about her niece Hale Asaf, who, too, had chosen to pursue her passion for art.

Mihri’s last years are veiled in mystery; it is argued that she lived in a homeless shelter, and when she died in 1954 at the age of 69, she was buried in Hard Island. Yet no record was found under any of the names she might have used to assert those claims.

In conclusion:

Mihri Müşfik’s legacy is a testament to the transformative power of art, breaking down boundaries and challenging social norms. Her unwavering dedication to her craft and tireless efforts to advance women’s rights in the arts and education have earned her a well-deserved place as a trailblazer in Ottoman art history. However, reviving her life and work proved to be a challenging task, as much of her art has been lost to time and her story remains shrouded in mystery.

“We know that Mihri Müşfik used her status, connections, and strong will to champion the advancement of education for women in the field of visual arts. By shining a spotlight on her work, we can provide new opportunities for women to discover and appreciate her contributions, and give her the recognition she deserves in the art world.”

reference: Özlem Gülin Dagoglu

Reference: Sebahat Akcay

Sibel Meydan Johnson

Born in Turkey, Sibel Meydan Johnson lived and studied in Mons Belgium most of her life. She graduated with honors with a major in Liberal Arts. In 1990 Sibel left her hometown for New York City. She worked for several years as a production assistant for " En Plein Air Masters" one of the first online plein air artists mentor programs then as director of production for Brush With Life TV’s series on visual art. Today Sibel is an autodidact painter, Freelance writer specializing in art and the business of art. Mother and wife, she is a full-time artist. Sibel's art captures and brings forth the hidden emotion of his subjects and evoke a sense of curiosity and introspection pushing the boundaries of creativity and expression, her work often combines elements of abstraction and realism, creating a unique and captivating visual experience that sometimes disturb the viewers.

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