The Best 19th Century Turkish Soldier Painters.

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Turkish Soldier painters were a group of painters trained in military schools, which gave its name to a movement in Turkey in the early 19th century. The foundations of the Turkish art of painting began at the Military Engineer Academy opened in 1795, with painting lessons being part of the curriculum during the reign of Selim III. Talented soldier painters were presented to the Sultan; these young soldiers were offered a grant to study abroad.

Among the generation of artists sent were Ferik İbrahim Pasha (1815-1891), Ferik Tevfik Pasha (1819-1866), and Hüsnü Yusuf Bey (1817-1861) were sent to England and France to study painting; they were followed in 1861 by Şeker Ahmet Ali Pasha (1841-1907), Süleyman Seyyid (1842-1913), Hüseyin Zekâi Pasha (1860-1919) and Osman Nuri Pasha (1839-1906). Süleyman Seyyid and Ahmet Ali Pasha stood out among the artists who grew up in the workshops of Gèrome, Boulanger, and Cabanel. The first actual painting exhibition was opened in 1873 under the leadership of Şeker Ahmet Ali Pasha.

Osman Hamdi Bey (1842-1910) was commissioned to establish the first Art School for high school students (the Sanayi-i Nefise Mekteb-i Ali) in 1882. A year later, the school opened its doors for academic study in visual art and sculpture.


Brief History of the Ottoman Empire (c1299-1922)

The Ottoman Empire was founded in c. 1299 by Osman I as a small beylik (city-state) in northwestern Asia Minor just south of the Byzantine capital Constantinople. The Ottomans first crossed into Europe in 1352 and established a permanent settlement at Çimpe Castle on the Dardanelles two years later. With the expansion of their borders, they moved their capital to Edirne (Adrianople) in 1369. Through the assimilation of other Asia Minor kingdoms with treaties of alliance, marriage, conquest, and declarations of allegiance. This little beylik became an empire.

After seven hundred years of dominance, the empire began to be left behind in military and industrial technology. The ottoman held the Califat; it was a theocratic state. The Sultan was the leader of Islam; as we know, religion is education and invention’s worst enemy.

From 1840 until world war I, several attempts to reform the government fell. A group of reformers known as the Young Ottomans, primarily educated in Western universities, believed that a constitutional monarchy would answer the empire’s growing social unrest. Through a military coup in 1876, they forced Sultan Abdülaziz (1861–1876) to abdicate in favor of Murad V., who was deposed within a few months.

His heir-apparent, Abdülhamid II (1876–1909), took power and declared a constitutional monarchy on November 23, 1876. The Ottoman Empire had long been the “sick man of Europe.” During this period, the empire faced challenges defending itself against foreign invasions and occupations. And after a series of Balkan wars by 1914, they had been driven out of nearly all of Europe and North Africa. The empire ceased to enter conflicts on its own and began to forge alliances with European countries.

The Reformation Period gave way to the First Constitutional Era (Birinci Mesrutiyet Devri) during Sultan Abdulhamid II’s reign. During the First Constitutional Era, two elections took place, leading to the first and second terms of the Ottoman Parliament in 1877 and 1878

At military schools such as the Imperial School of Military Engineering (1795), the Imperial School of Medicine (1827), the Military Academy (1834), and the College of Public Administration (1859), as well as in civilian institutions such as the Imperial School (1868) and the Darussafaka School for Orphans (1873), painting classes taught by European instructors promoted a new interest in this branch of art.”

Sultan Abdulaziz (r. 1861-1876) was interested in calligraphy and painting and was a keen patron of the arts. During his reign, advised by his aide, the painter Seker Ahmed Pasha, he established a significant collection of paintings at Dolmabahce Palace. Another innovation under Sultan Abdulaziz’s regime was the Sergi-i Umumi-i Osmani (the Ottoman Exposition), an international fair held in Sultanahmet Square in 1863. Art was now not only miniatures in books but hanging on walls

Ottoman Turk Soldier Artists.

Osman Hamdi Bey

Osman Hamdi Bey was born in Istanbul in 1842-1910, the son of Ibrahim Edhem Pasha, an Ottoman Grand Vizier. He was an Ottoman administrator, intellectual, archaeologist, and painter. He founded the Istanbul Archaeology Museums and the Istanbul Academy of Fine Arts (Sanayi-i Nefise Mektebi) in Turkish, known today as the Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University. He was also the first mayor of Kadıköy.

Hoca Ali Riza,

Hoca Ali Rıza was born in Istanbul1858-1930; he lived in Uskudar all his life. He lost his father ( Mehmet Rüştü Bey), a Cavalry Major and an amateur calligrapher at seven. Hoca Ali Riza had a significant influence on the Turkish art scene and artists in Turkey; he learned from the impressionist of the 19th century while he studied in Paris. He graduated from the “Ministry of Origin” program of the War College in 1884 with the rank of Lieutenant and was appointed as the assistant of his teacher Osman Nuri Pasha.

Hodja Ali Rıza, a member of the Soldier Painter Generation, was the mentor of a whole generation of painters of the 19th century. He mainly painted his hometown, the seaside, its cafes, the villages, and the sunny cliffs of Üsküdar and Karacaahmet. He was known for his speed, charcoal, and watercolor, producing 5,000 landscapes of Istanbul during his lifetime. His children opened his first exhibition three years after his death. Collective exhibitions were held in Ankara in 1958 and Istanbul in 1960.

Şeker Ahmet Paşa

Seker Ahmet Paşa, his real name Ahmet Ali was born in Istanbul in 1841-1907 and graduated from the Militaire Engineer Academy in Istanbul, where his superiors noticed him for his extraordinary artistic abilities. In 1864, Sultan Abdulaziz gave him the grant to continue his creative studies in Paris, France, at the School of Fine “Les Beaux Arts.” He lived in Paris for seven years. His principal teachers were Jean-Leon Gerome and Gustave Courtois. His paintings were exhibited at the Paris International Fair in 1867 and the Salon of 1869 and 1870. Halil Paşa had a realistic naive style, with the impressionist thick brush strokes. He was one of the first impressionist Plein air painters when he returned home.

He was appointed as an art teacher at the Art School in Sultanahmet with the rank of Senior Captain in 1871; in 1873, he opened the first exhibition in the Ottoman empire of works by Turk and foreign painters at the Mekteb-i Sanayi in Sultanahmet. Two years later, on July 1, 1875, he followed by the exhibition in the hall of the Press Museum building Darülfünun in Çemberlitaş. Şeker Ahmet Pasha was promoted to be aide de camp of Abdülaziz Sultan. His responsibilities prevented him from painting Plein air, and he worked on still-life in his mansion in Mercan. He retired as a Major General in 1890. He died on May 5, 1907.

Hüseyin Zekayi Paşa

Huseyin Zekayi Pasa was born in 1859-1910. Like many Soldier Artists of his generation, he showed early a great love of art. He studied under Suleyman Seyyid and Osman Nuri at the Military high school. He enrolled at the Turkish Military Academy; his painting of the Turkish Navy performing night maneuvers in the Bosporus caught Sultan Abdul Hamid’s attention. In 1883, he was appointed as an assistant to Şeker Ahmed Pasha with the rank of Lieutenant.

After Seker Ahmed Pasha’s death, he took over as a court painter and chamberlain. In 1908, he helped organize the nation’s first official military museum in the Hagia Irene; he retired the same year with the rank of Brigadier-General. He came out of retirement in 1910 to start working for the “Higher Education Office” (precursor of the Ministry of National Education). He also participated in the “Galatasaray Exhibition.” just before his death.

Final Word

During Ottoman Rule, education was only for the elite. The Latin-based Turkish alphabet replaced the old Ottoman Turkish alphabet only after 1928 by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who established the Republic of Turkey and was his first president in 1923. under his presidency, schools were opened. All children had the right to free education. I feel that these Soldier Artists were pioneers in bringing new movements of art in turkey that need to be acknowledged for their achievements, including recording a time long gone with their artworks.