Tragic life of Painter, Hale Asaf

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Hale Asaf Picture

Biography and Education.

Painter Hale Asaf, originally Hale Saliha (1905, Istanbul -31 May 1938 Paris), was a Turkish painter of Georgian, Abkhazian, and Circassian ancestry. Like most Turkish women painters of the Ottoman, Hale Asaf was born into an elite Ottoman bourgeoisie and grew up multilingual. She was the niece of Turkey’s first female artist, Mihri Müşfik Hanım.

Her father was the President of the Ottoman Court of Appeals. Chief Justice Salih Bey (the son of Sultan Abdülhamid’s aide-de-camp Asaf Paşa). Her mother, Enise Hanım (the daughter of Rasim Paşa, head of the School of Medicine.) She was the granddaughter of grand vizier Halil Hamit Pasha on her father’s side and the granddaughter of Çerkez Mehmet Rasim Pasha from her mother’s side. Hale was homeschooled with English Tutors during her formative years. She spoke English and Greek, she learned to talk with her Greek maids, and when she went to Notre Dame de Sion in high school, she quickly learned French; she spoke Italian, Arab and Germain too.

Hale Asaf Turkish newspaper article about her ancestry

1919, at the beginning of the Turkish War of Independence, At 14 years old, she was sent to Rome to live with her aunt, renowned painter and teacher Mihri Rasim (1885-1954), who painted Ataturk standing portrait. She received her first serious art lessons. 1920 her family sent the talented Hale Asaf to Paris, Montparnasse, where she was Namık İsmail’s student, and in 1921 at only 16 years old, she won the Berlin Fine Arts Academy entry contest, where she was the student of Prof. Arthur Kampf. At Arthur Kampf studio, the future renowned painters Fikret Mualla and Ali Avni Çelebi. However, by 1924, she stopped studying and returned to Istanbul for economic reasons. Back in Turkey, she attended Feyhaman Duran’s studio at the Academy of Fine Arts for Women. Later, the school merged with the School of Fine Arts ( later Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University), where she studied under İbrahim Çallı.

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

The turmoil in the government after the Republic was established; her father, a Royalist, and his brother Cemel Bey were exiled to Egypt. leaving his family behind. Enise Hanim, his first wife, asked for a divorce. Sometimes later, she died of tuberculosis in a sanatorium in Switzerland. Hale Asaf, incensed at her father, will take her grandfather’s name from then on. Without her father’s financial support, Hale Asaf relied only on the government grant for her art studies. She supplemented her income by giving private French lessons.

Hale Asaf entered several contests to study overseas; in January 1925, her painting Yasli Adam (The old Man) won a competition; she was the first female artist to win a contest in which the prize was a chance to study abroad. In January 1926, she returned to study in Germany with a grant from the Ministry of Education. There, in Munich, she became a student of L. Corinth. The same year she had to cut her study short to travel to Italy, where she was hospitalized for surgery to remove cysts in her breath.

In 1927 back in Turkey, Hale Asalf went to Paris with a group of fellow students and other artists; Refik Epikman, Cevat Dereli, Mahmut Cuda, Nurullah Berk, Ratip Asir Acudoğlu, Muhittin Sebati, Ali Karsan, İsmail Hakkı (Oygar), Ali Hadi Bara, Fahreddin Arkunlar, and Şeref Akdik. From 1927 to 1928, she studied at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière with André Lhote and took private lessons from İsmail Hakkı Oygar, a noted ceramic artist. Ismail Hakki and Hale will get engaged in Paris. In August 1928, the group of Avant-guard artists returned to Istanbul; they were received with great enthusiasm by new paper journalists. The news about their return was published in Milliyet.


All Students who received a grant from the government at the end of their residency had to pay back the government by teaching public school for a year. Ismail Hakki Oygar and Hale were sent to Bursa. By then, they were husband and wife. They each had a teaching position; Hale taught at the girls’ Normal School (a teacher’s college) and the Necati Bey Girls’ Art Institute. Because of her cosmopolitan upbringing and drive for her art, she found it hard to fit in a small provincial town like Bursa; Hale’s modernism and the Ottoman traditional culture, still firmly anchored in the people of this remote region, clashed. In one incident, she was surrounded by an angry and rowdy crowd for sketching at a Bazaar and frightened Hale Asaf fainted. During her 13 months in Bursa, she painted some of her best works, several regional landscapes.

She left Bursa when her friend and artist Mahmut Cûda heard of her struggle; he offered to exchange their teaching position. Ecstatic, she returned to Istanbul to work at the Güzel Sanatlar Akademisi (Istanbul State Academy of Fine Arts. On April 15, 1929, she participated in the 1st Young Artists Exhibition in Ankara Etnografya Museum with six paintings. In 1929 Hale Asaf, with a group of young artists, founded the Independent Artists and Sculptors Union. This group held exhibitions at the Türk Ocağı in Istanbul. The group pioneered the foundations of modern Turkish painting, which was the extension of European art movements in Turkey.

Between 1929 and 1931, she participated in several Exhibitions;

1929 Independent Painters and Sculptors Union (Müstakil Ressamlar ve Heykeltıraşlar Birliği), Istanbul

1930 Independent Painters and Sculptors Union, Ankara

1930 Montparnasse Summer Exhibition, Paris, She travel back to Paris

1931 Independent Painters and Sculptors Union’s Fourth Exhibition, Moskovitz Salon, Istanbul

1931 Independent Painters and Sculptors Union Exhibition, Istanbul This was her last exhibition while living in Turkey.

Hale Asaf moves Permentely to Paris.

Hale Asaf’s weak health and her husband’s gambling were the subjects of constant arguments. In 1931 she went to Paris alone. In Paris, she had eye surgery losing partially her sight. While in Paris, she began a relationship with Antonio Aniante (real name, Antonio Raprisarda 1900-1983). Antonio was an Italian writer and poet who had left Italy when Mussolini arrived in power. When the time came for Hale to go back to Turkey, Aniante convinced Hale to stay permanently in Paris with him after long debates and arguments; he was financially secure with the sale of his books and running a Youth Library/Gallery in Montparnasse, he offered Hale to manage the library and curate the gallery.

Hale Alaf Exhibition while in Paris.

1932 Jeune Europe (Young Europe) Gallery, Paris

1933 Jeune Europe (Young Europe) Gallery, Paris

1933 Tuileries Exhibition, Paris

1933 Jeune Europe (Young Europe) Gallery, Paris

1935 Society of Independent Artists’ Fall Salon Exhibition, Paris

The fascist movement was making way with Mussolini in Italy and Hitler in Germany. Aniante wrote a book opposing Benito Mussolini’s politics and character. Once published, Mussolini declared Aniante a traitor and banned his books and the publisher Grassett from Italy. Soon after, Grassett publishing dropped Aniante. Losing his primary income, the couple had a prolonged financial struggle ahead. The library did not bring enough income to sustain their life, and they were evicted from homes by the end of December. Putting their little belongings on a cart, they wandered the street of Paris looking for shelter.

Aniante recalled that period during an interview with Journalist Abidin and Guzin Dino; we were on the street and found an abandoned shack with a tin roof. It was cold and humid in the rubble. We put a carpet on the ground and held each other for warmth while Paris celebrated.” Andante’s found help from his Italian friend, who assisted them by renting a room in a building across from Montparnasse’s cemetery. The conditions were deplorable, but they had a roof over their heads. Hale’s teacher Andre Lhote let her use his studio; Monsieur Cataigraud, an art supplier to the student of La Grande Chaumiere, offered supplies. For the rest, it was a day-to-day struggle.

Hale Asla never complained or gave up on painting. She met with other artist friends at a Paris cafe to exchange ideas; in one of these gatherings, Hale bosted that Albania’s King Zog I was a family friend during the Ottoman era; they suggested Hale paint his portrait and send it to him, which she did. Two months later, she received a thank you letter and five thousand francs. Hale was highly thrilled. With cash on hand, she could pay her bills, pay back those who helped her and enjoy her newfound financial freedom, at least for a while. Hale had hidden the seriousness of her health condition from everyone, including Aniante; he believed she had tuberculosis.

Hale Asaf illness

Hale was plagued by illness from birth. Different references give different diagnoses; at age five, famous surging Dr. Kamburoglu removed numerous fibrosis from her liver, others say Lungs. While in Berlin in 1921, she had her breast removed; she also developed tuberculosis which ran rampant throughout Europe. Hale was a fragile, small-built, pale woman with a fears drive; she knew her time on earth was short, so she made every moment count. She was driven to make her mark and leave after her death her artistic legacy. Sometimes in her weakest moments, she fell into a deep depression and often thought of suicide; during those moments, Aniante was by her side, giving her hope for better days. When she decided to stay with Aniante in Paris and not return to Turkey, the grant from the Turkish Minister of Education was cut, leaving her without any revenue. These were difficult times exacerbating and weakening her already frail constitution.

By 1937, the art world recognized her name and works; her deteriorating health was physically apparent, but still, she kept her condition hidden from everyone. During her last hospitalization, an x-ray showed her liver, pancreas, and ovaries had cancer, and her lungs were severely affected. It was when Aniante discovered Hale was at the last stage of cancer; she was in tremendous pain and put on morphine. Holding on to the hope of her recovery, Aniante convinces Hale to do several surgeries to remove the tumors. During one of the surgery, the doctors removed a 3klg cist. Aniante remembers her words, ” this is it” (Bu son). Hale had prepared herself for death, and she had organized her paintings and written a letter bequeathing them to Aniante. She was angry at the Turkish government for having abandoned her and doing nothing while she was destitute; she did not wish the Turkish government to claim her or her art. On May 31, 1938, she fell into a coma shortly after she passed away. She was interred in Paris.

Hale Asaf Arts

While Impressionism and classical art movements inspired many Turkish artists of her time, she was a proponent of Cubism. Some of her paintings were destroyed during World War II; some were in private Turkish collections, and some were in İstanbul Resim ve Heykel Müzesi (T.N. Istanbul Painting and Sculpture Museum). One of the two paintings sold in Paris Hotel Drout, “Oturan kız, “is in the Ahmet Utku Collection today.  It is known that the artist had twenty-one portraits; only ten are known to date, ten of thirteen Bursa Landscapes, five Paris landscapes, and one general landscape, an owl painting dated 1925 is in a private collection in the USA today. After her death, Aniante gifted Hale’s art to the Turkish government. A survey conducted in 2001-02 could account for fewer than thirty of her works.

Final Words.

This is the story of a determined fearless woman and artist. Art was everything to her. Why did she hide her health condition from everyone? I can only speculate. She is the only one who could have answered. Hale was racing against time. She battled poverty and illness every moment during her short life. She made milestone achievements as a woman in the art scene in the early nineteen century. She knew a privileged life during the Ottoman Empire and lost everything during the war of independence; her family, her security, and her status; that is when she began her long struggle to be a painter. When Van Gogh and his turmoils know to the world, Hale is not even mentioned in art history. She is finally recognized in Turkey for her achievements as the artist who introduced Cubism in Turkish art. I hope this article will be an introduction to an unbelievably driven woman and exceptional painter.

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Hale Asaf last painting