It is well known that, while many countries were going through a fundamental change with the World War in the first half of the twentieth century, Turkey was also reshaped with the foundation of the Republic. However, the dimension of the impacts of the change in the eye of individuals is undoubtedly open to discussion. When it comes to art, it will be appropriate to explain the changes without separating it from the Westernization movement, which would date back to the eighteenth century, and to speak of a transformation process extended over time rather than a sudden historical disengagement at the social level. On October13, 1923, Ankara was declared the capital of the newly founded state; however, Istanbul, where the first steps of the Turkish art in Western sense were taken, continued to have a central position in many areas including art after the declaration of the Republic. It may sound ambitious the following can be said: The essence of the relationship of an artist from Turkey and Istanbul is to be in the city rather than just work or live in the city; Paris is the second essential step. “Istanbul has been both the center of art production and exhibition, the venue for debates and the subject of the paintings with its scenery, historical structures and images from life.”

Turkish painting started to go beyond traditional production styles with scenery paintings in the nineteenth century.1 From Osman Hamdi (d. 1910) to Şeker Ahmed Pasha (d. 1907), who was wrongly named the “Primitive” to soldier painters Halil Pasha (d. 1939), Hodja Ali Rıza (d. ?) or Diyarbakırlı Tahsin (d. 1937); Hüseyin Zekâî Pasha (d. 1919), İsmail Hakkı (d. 1926) or Nazmi Ziya (d. 1937), we witness that in late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries artists, who were in search of new topics, mostly painted nature and Istanbul’s city landscape scenes. First we need to search for the causes of this tendency.

Sezer Tansuğ explains the interest in Istanbul’s landscape as the following:

It is intriguing that the Turkish art of painting, which started its struggle to become global world art by developing substantially in the second half of the nineteenth century, frequently depicted the coastline and picturesque streets of Istanbul. This means the human figure was not seen in the paintings as some beliefs against the human appearance were still prevalent. Photo interpreting artists, who compared city photographs taken by exceptionally famous Abdullah Brothers in Istanbul in the second half of the nineteenth century to their canvas paintings replicas in terms of composition schemas, noticed that paintings did not include groups or individual people. You may ask how a city could exist without people but the moment you feel the hyper-realistic interpretation fantasy in those paintings, the need to see those figures will disappear. However, this was a tendency that could be called conservative and artists were fast to include the experiences they gained from their education in Europe in their works of art that would handle the city environment.2

1- Fenerbahçe by Mıgırdıç Givanian (Central Bank)

As Tansuğ stated, the following can be listed as some of the reasons for the interest: the intention to paint without figures, the influence of artists particularly impressionists, who chose painting scenery when the scenery gained more meaning than a style in painting in Europe in the nineteenth century, the primary curiosity that would imitate the nature, the scenery paintings being one of the most appropriate and easiest subjects in light-shade, color-style, perspective-space or volume observations, the influence of the photograph and so on. Moreover, the first Ottoman artists also intended to create works of art that were pleasant to look at by adhering to the nature and this affected the understanding of painting and tastes of their successors.

Around 1920s, firstly Halil Pasha with his impressionist sceneries of Istanbul’s districts and particularly the Bosphorus and later “14 Generation” (Çallı Generation) led by Ibrahim Calli (d.1960) with their impressionist style focusing on light and color produced many examples for Istanbul’s landscape. The city is said to be discovered again by writers, artists and thinkers.3

When Nurullah Berk mentioned the 14 Generation in his book called History of Contemporary Turkish Painting he said that the artists of the previous term were “stuck” in scenery painting in a negative way:

… The young artists who gathered in Istanbul when the World War I broke out were entering the world of colors with a new boldness that would end the 19th century painting aesthetics with their brand new view, sense and methods that they brought from France, Germany and Italy. “Types” were diversified now. They included the single figure, the human, emulated portrait and “scenes”, which depicted various subjects in the “scenery” and still-life types that the previous artists were stuck in.4

On the other hand, Tansuğ, who was looking for a milestone in the Turkish painting for city sceneries, determined 1914 as the year when the artists, who went to Europe and mostly Paris in order to get education, returned to the country. In other words, in contrast to Berk, he refers to the sceneries of 14 Generation, who worked in an impressionist style, focusing on Istanbul. He mentions that these artists “had more familiarity with the city atmosphere” and says that “…they wanted the values they saw in the West to be in their country as well” so he concludes, that the fact that artists took these criteria in consideration while painting, is the natural result.5

2- Fishers’ Boats by Hikmet Onat (Central Bank)

Scenery paintings were the most produced kind and it would be so for many years. Likewise, after the Art and Sculpture Museum was opened in 1937, the works of art in the State Art and Sculpture Exhibitions, which started in Istanbul and continued in Ankara, would be mostly comprised of scenery paintings; for instance, Malik Aksel (d. 1987) stated that his 326 works were in the exhibition in 1941 and most of them were the sceneries from Istanbul and Ankara, he even talked about the increase in the number of other types of paintings compared to previous years with a hidden joy.6

Istanbul as The Unchanging Capital of Art

First of all, Istanbul has been an educational center. In addition to the art classes added to the curriculum of military schools, the opening of School of Fine Arts (Sanayi-i Nefise School) was determinative in Turkish arts history. The academy had to move several times during war years and finally in 1926 it moved to the old First Turkish Parliament building in Fındıklı. Its name was changed to Fine Arts Academy (Sanayi-i Nefise Akademisi) in 1927 and to Academy of Fine Arts (Güzel Sanatlar Akademisi) in 1938.7

3- Beykoz İshakağa Fountain by Hikmet Onat (Central Bank)

The presence of an “art environment” in Istanbul can be dated to the last quarter of the nineteenth century, although it would reach a much higher level in the following years. In the last period of the Ottoman Empire Turks, Muslims, foreigners and Levantine painters, based in Beyoglu in Istanbul, opened small one-time most exhibitions. The exhibition organized by Şeker Ahmed Pasha in Sultanahmet building of the Academy of Fine Arts in April 1873 was regarded as the first painting exhibition. Founded in 1909 by Çallı Kuşağı group, Ottoman Association of Artists organized Galatasaray Exhibitions at Galatasaray High School and Galatasaray Dormitory called Societa Operaia between 1916 and 1952, which were the first long lasting exhibitions that took place in spite of impossibilities. Artists such as Şevket Dağ (d. 1944), Sami Yetik (d. 1945), Mihri Müşfik (d. 1954?), Ömer Adil (d. 1928), Feyhaman Duran (d. 1970) as well as the first-generation artists such as Halil Pasha, Hodja Ali Rıza took part in these exhibitions.

The Ottoman Association of Artists changed its name to Turkish Association of Artists in 1921 and continued their activities after the Republic was declared. The significance of the continuing Galatasaray exhibitions as the “art activity of the year” started gaining a new kind of importance in terms of showing how the nationalism developed for Ottoman artists. The fifth Galatasaray Exhibition in 1923, which can be named the first national exhibition, was criticized that “an authentic Turkish art had not been formed.”8

Following the explanation “just to love a district of it is worth a lifetime”9 it will be appropriate to look at the decades of Turkish art, where Istanbul is both the center of artistic developments and landscapes defining the city, Istanbul in the center of Westernized Turkish art following the declaration of Republic.

1920s: The Goal of Modernization

While the Westernization movement that started in the Ottoman Empire was experienced in its own particular conditions with the emergence of modernization in the Republic period, the primary goal was to make the “art” one of the important tools of cultural practices. Every step in the institutionalization of art was under the monopoly of the state. While the relationship of the state with the art was based on the adoption of state national ideology of the new Turkish Republic and the principle of construction of Turkish identity on one hand and comparative autonomy of the artist, art would be directed at forming a new art-style language by creating visual parallelism with the West it was following.

4- On the shores of Üsküdar by Hikmet Onat (Central Bank)

5- Emirgan Çınaraltı (Under the sycamore tree in Emirgan) by İbrahim Çallı (Central Bank)

Hasan Ali Yücel, who served as the Minister of Education in the second term of the single one-party period, focused on the issue of art as well as education and started a cultural reform. In October 1924, as required by the education principles within the first development program of the new Republic, the Ministry of Education organized a competition and art students were sent to Europe for education. This actually was the continuation of the education understanding initiated by the Ottomans aiming for Westernization. Şeref Kâmil (Akdik) (d. 1972), Mahmut Cûda (d. 1987), Muhittin Sebati (d. 1932), Refik Epikman (d. 1974), Cevat Dereli (d. 1989) were the first artist groups to be chosen by the jury and sent to Paris.10 Sending students to Europe lasted for many years.

The first of the important developments for arts in 1923 was the establishment of the New Association of Painting, which would later be named as Independent Artists and Sculptors Association. They organized their first exhibition in the building of Istanbul Association of Press on 15 May 1924. There were 115 paintings in the exhibition, where artists such as Şeref Kâmil (Akdik), Elif Naci, Refik Fazıl (Epikman), Mahmut Cûda, Ali Avni (Çelebi) could participate and the Ministry of Education purchased most of their works of art.

1920s was the period, when Turkish art was virtually tested with modernism and the impressionist painting values based on the needs of the type of scenery would be gradually changed. Ali Avni (Çelebi) (d. 1993), Ratip Aşir (Acudoğlu) (d. 1957), Ahmet Kenan Yontuç (d. 1995) and Ahmet Zeki (Kocamemi) (d. 1959) went to Munich in 1922 and joined the workshop of Heinemann. They could not pass the exams of Munich Academy so they started working in the workshop of another expressionist artist Hans Hofmann (b. 1880-d. 1966). This was a milestone that would reveal a different tendency in Turkish painting art. Ali Avni Çelebi and Zeki Kocamemi returned to Istanbul from Munich in 1927 and attempted to found an artist union with the consciousness they gained from the Western thought and took the initiative in the establishment of Independent Artist and Sculptor Association on July 15, 1929.

Çelebi and Kocamemi particularly went beyond the impressionist style and opened a new way with their Istanbul-focused expressionist landscapes, practicing conscious deformation and depicting modernized city images. Some researchers refer to Galatasaray exhibition of 1927 as a milestone in Turkish painting in terms of realistic modernism, because of Ali Avni Çelebi’s Vitrin painting (Picture 1).11 The painting dating back to 1926 is remarkable as it approached the speed of daily life, which was pretty innovative way for Turkish art.

Among the Independent, who had the common trait of opposing the impressionist understanding of their teacher representing the 14 Generation and gave importance to pattern structure and linear construction of the painting,12 were Cevat Dereli (Picture 2), who returned from Paris in 1927 and recorded life what was happening around him, fish restaurants, mansions with his individual sketch-like style and painted districts of Istanbul such as Princes’ Islands, Çamlıca, Baltalimanı, Sarayburnu Kuşağı, Muhittin Sebati his city landscapes in dark tones, Refik Epikman, who was trained in Çallı workshop and dealt with the important historical structures monuments in wider plans through his landscape understanding and his paintings such as Nusretiye Mosque and Rumeli Fortress dating 1924 (Picture 3) and having a distinct contrast, Mahmut Cuda, who practiced painting the historical and monumental structures of the city in addition to the landscapes, Şeref Kâmil Akdik (Picture 4) with particularly sceneries of Istanbul overlooking Sarayburnu and Marmara Sea from Kadıkoy and Moda where he lived, also sculptor Ratip Aşir (Acudoğlu) and Hale Asaf (d. 1938), who achieved success with her portraits and Nurullah Berk (d. 1982) who would later join the d group.13

6- Kum Pier in Üsküdar by Hasan Vecih Bereketoğlu (Central Bank)

Hamit Görele (d. 1981), Ziya Keseroğlu (d. 1973) and Edip Hakkı Köseoğlu (ö. 1990) were among artists, who took part in the exhibitions of the independent artists and painted expressionist works of art such as Heybeliada ve Adalar’dan (Picture 5) and also attract attention with their Istanbul paintings.

Although the foundation stage of Independent Artists and Sculptors Association was in the First Young Artists Exhibition in Ankara Ethnography Museum on 15 April 1929, the first exhibition of the group was put to display in the Turkish Center in Istanbul Cağaloğlu on 15 September of the same year. The exhibition was comprised of 73 paintings and 4 sculptures.

Another significant development of the period was the Ottoman Association of Artists that was founded in 1909. The association that continued its activities with the name Turkish Association of Artists since 1921 was named as Turkish Association of Fine Arts on 26 December 1926. Many experts came to Turkey from abroad in order to develop the cultural and artistic environment in that period. J. Dewey’s report stating that visual art activities should be given importance is significant.14 The name of the association was changed to the Association of Fine Arts in 1928.

7- Salacak Ferry Pier by Hasan Vecih Bereketoğlu (Central Bank)

Due to the absence of a special exhibition hall until the 1950s and the limitations of state-owned hall, artists would look for exhibition places on their own even without necessity of recruiting suitable venues to exhibit work. Artists had their exhibitions in the halls of foreign culture embassies, Turkish Centers the Turkish Hearths (Türk Ocakları) and Community Centers in Ankara and Istanbul, and in the proper venues of different institution buildings, in the academy or private stores. For instance, the exhibition, that was considered to be one of the most important activities organized by the Independents on February 15, 1931, was in Moskovit Restaurant Hall in Istiklal Street.15

It was not possible for an artist to live by selling his paintings in Turkey in the early Republic Republican period. Therefore, most of them worked as teachers and some of them worked as instructor at the academy. For instance, Ali Çelebi said he was painting portraits for 5 lira.16 Namık İsmail (d. 1935) said he had around 200-250 paintings in an interview he had in 1935 and he earned 30-35.000 liras. The state purchased works of art from Art and Sculpture Exhibitions but Namık İsmail stated that this purchase did not go beyond the “subsidy” boundaries.17

It is not possible to refer to a serious art market until nearly the end of the 1970s. It is known that paintings were also sold in Zuhal Stationery Store, where painting materials were sold in Sehzadebasi during World War I.18 Malik Aksel states that Sevket Dağ, who was known as the Hagia Sophia painter as he would set up his easel and paint there, would open a booth in Sehzadebasi during the times it was an amusement park and make money by selling his paintings. On the other hand, Sezer Tansuğ states that Şevket Dağ would sell Istanbul scenery paintings to government officers, who lived in Ankara missing Istanbul, whenever he visited Ankara.19 Although both of the writers argued that the artists should not sell their paintings, they did not criticize Dağ for the method he chose.

8- Salacak by Hasan Vecih Bereketoğlu (Central Bank)

1930s: What was Expected from Art

After the first decade of the Republic, new program of the government was to speed up the adaptation process to the reforms and to develop nation’s consciousness. During those years, state’s approach to arts was considered mandatory and it was accepted that as a condition for civilization. Namık İsmail, the principal head of the academy during those years, stated in his report submitted to the Ministry of Education in 1933 that fine arts were far from being national, it was under the influence of East and West, and the development of fine arts depended on the frequent visual contact of the public with the works of art.20 As the development of arts and culture became a state policy, artists were encouraged to spread art to the whole country and for this aim Country Trips, Reform Exhibitions and Community centers were organized in 1930s- 1940s. The economic crisis that affected the whole world in 1930s strengthened the statism and arts were guided with an enlightened and progressive understanding. Artists also started learning and adopting the art styles of the West which they defined as modern.

9- Beylerbeyi Pier by Cevat Erkul (Central Bank)

In this regard, the “d Group” which was actualized with a meeting participated by 4 artists in Zeki Faik İzer’s house on Cihangir Kumrulu Ramp in September 1933 chose this name for themselves as they were the 4th group of the Turkish art of painting.21 According to this group which was comprised of Zeki Faik İzer (d. 1988), Nurullah Berk, Abidin Dino (d. 1933), Elif Naci (d. 1987), Cemal Tollu (d. 1968) and sculptor Zühtü Müridoğlu (d. 1992) who had their education in Paris in André Lhote (d. 1962) and Fernand Léger’s (d. 1955) workshop, the art and sculpture understanding in the country showed a delay of 50 years”22 and this gap should be closed. The group had their first exhibition in Mimoza hat store in Narmanlı Han on 8 October 1933 and the exhibition was comprised of cubism and constructivism paintings.

D Group was concerned with the practice of cubist and constructivist tendencies in Turkey and came together in accordance with principles opposite to the Independents. They were interested in structure rather than colors and impressions; they focused on figure perception in an attempt to replace one-dimensionality of pictorial works. Cemal Tollu’s landscape, a view of Istanbul from a geometric approach, can be shown as an example (Picture 6). Emerging with a precise manner, at first Fikret Adil, later Nurullah Berk, the spokesman of the group, although not doing quite the same but still being an example, works of Izer, such as seaside scenery or Blue Mosque’s Windows (Picture 7) or Sabri Berkel’s Taksim Square (Picture 8) painting, had the quality of color abstractions and stylistically tried what had not been attempted in Turkish scenery painting. On the other hand, Izer’s works such as From the Hills of Dolmabahçe are examples opposite to the principles of the D Group. These examples reflect artists’ search of style.

10- The Tomb of Sultan Mehmed II by Zeki Kocamemi (Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality City Museum)

Bedri Rahmi Eyüboğlu (d. 1975) who joined the group with the influence d Group created but could not adopt an authentic style and continued his way independently chose local subjects with motif fantasy understanding. His works showing Istanbul’s coffeehouses, streets and people such as Coffee in Tophane (Picture 9) or Beyazıt Istanbul University Yard painting dating 1934 are authentic in terms of artist’s motif style descriptive scene depiction.

The years aforementioned witnessed fervent discussions in the intellectual circles. Fikret Adil (d. 1973) who advocated for the d Group had close relationships with the artists and his house in Asmalimescit no:74 became a place frequently visited by artists.23 The group adopted the principle of “Art for art” and advanced towards a painting that was purified from the figure. For example, Ercüment Kalmık’s Isolated Istanbul Image painting (Picture 10), who acted with d Group right after its establishment, was close to being abstract rather than a complete abstraction and it showed the way the group’s art was developing. Moreover, Eren Eyüboğlu (d. 1988) who created the street scenes such as Historical Tophane (Picture 11) with a strong style and color as well as Şükriye Dikmen (d. 2000), who formed her works with sharp outer lines, were some of the artists, who were associated with d Group, but could be considered to be independent.

The support from Burhan Toprak (d.1967) who was the principal of the academy during those years for the d Group and the appointment of French Léopold Lévy (d. 1966) as the head of the arts department due to modern arts concerns and German Rudolf Belling (d. 1972) as the head of the sculpture department were important developments. On the other hand, representatives of d Group started working as instructors in the academy, which influenced academy’s tradition and determined Turkish art environment and resulted in the growing influence of the group.

Another significant event of this period was the opening of Istanbul Museum of Arts and Sculpture. The attempt to set up a museum actually started in 1910s and became one of the basic events of the Republic period.

The most significant step towards institutionalizing museums was giving Topkapı Palace to the administration of Directorate of Museums on 18 January 1925 and Dolmabahçe and Beylerbeyi palaces to the new directorate called National Palaces.24 On the other hand, the need for modern museums was absolutely essential. Burhan Toprak, who was also an art historian, organized Art and Sculpture Exhibition of a Half Century on 28 August 1936. This exhibition was important in terms of the first historical classification of the Ottoman-Turkish arts and the works of art were gathered in order to start a museum. The Academy of Fine Arts under the administration of Burhan Toprak became the cultural center of Istanbul with exhibitions, conferences, and so on many other cultural activities and events.25

The chamber of Heir to the Throne in Dolmabahçe Palace was transformed upon Atatürk’s order and Istanbul Arts and Sculpture Museum was opened on September 20, 1937. It is claimed that Atatürk decided to open this museum after he saw the Arts and Sculpture Exhibition for a Half Century in 1936.26 The fact that they did not wait for a new building to be constructed may mean that they were in a hurry. The first museum of Turkish art was founded this way. Later on, state increased its support for art and artists and State Arts and Sculpture Exhibitions were organized as of 1939. Following the exhibition in Ankara, such exhibitions were organized in Istanbul and sometimes in Izmir. The jury evaluated artists and awarded them. A certain number of works of art were purchased by the state in order to be placed in various directorates.

It was impossible to talk about a particular art collector. Main reason for this appeared to be poverty, but also the fact that the value of the art could not be measured yet was certain. Independent collectors appeared only after the emergence of private galleries as of 1950s. The interest in the arts previously lacked quality due to the perception of work of art as a merely decorative component. Malik Aksel mentions the poor conditions regarding the sale of works of art as the following in his book about Third Arts and Sculpture Exhibition:

11- A Scene from inside a street by İbrahim Safi (Central Bank)

They don’t say they purchase works of art from the artists but they say they help artists and give them money for encouragement and help. The artist never sells his paintings with his head held high and at ease in our country. He has to show humility and rub his hands together so that he can sell his paintings.27

1940s: Looking for the “Yeni” (New)

While the World War II was causing big destruction in Europe, a transformation was experienced in art as disappointment regarding the proportionately idealized “Western” notion grew and Turkish artists and intellectuals drew more attention to national values. Questions such as if Western art should be adapted as it was or what the dimensions of imitation should be brought forward within the context of fervent locality-universality discussions. We must highlight the fact that there was a direct relationship understanding and perception of paintings within the idea of spreading the art to large masses and figurative painting. Some of the artists from the d Group were inspired by traditional arts such as miniature and calligraphy and started working by creating “new” and different “synthesis” forms. For instance, while Nurullah Berk’s Heybeliada painting (Picture 12) dating 1941 was in accordance with the common principles adopted by the d Group, the subject choice of Berk changed from the scenery to figures, like Cemal Tollu, and continued his work using more local decorative components.

12- Moda Mühürdar by Şeref Akdik (Central Bank)

While d Group spread its influence to a wider scale by opening 15 group exhibitions between 1933 and 1947, some artists, creating regional or local art movement started acting like a group as well. “Yeniler” group that was comprised of Nuri İyem (d. 2005), Selim Turan (d. 1994), Avni Arbaş (d. 2003) (Picture 13), Nejad Melih Devrim (d. 1995), Kemal Sönmezler, Turgut Atalay (d. 2003) and Abidin Dino from the people who worked in the workshop of Lévy, the head of the painting department in the academy, started to make a name for themselves. Agop Arad (d. 1990), Faruk Morel and Yusuf Karaçay joined these artists, who advocated socialist art opposing the discourse of d Group and organized an exhibition called “Port City Istanbul” in Beyoğlu Association of Journalists on March 28, 1940. They were called “Port Artists” as well after this exhibition. Dino left the group in the second exhibition they organized in 1941 and Fethi Karakaş (ö. 1977), Mümtaz Yener (d. 2007), Ferruh Başağa (d. 2010) and Haşmet Akal (d. 1960) (Picture 14) joined the group. İyem stated that the number of the artists who wanted to join their group increased and socialist realist art sense was largely adopted by his own generation.28

13- Forest by Şeref Akdik (Central Bank)

The members of Yeniler group, who wanted to draw the picture of the society they lived in, would grow away from the socialist art sense following 1950s and some artists such as Nuri İyem and Avni Arbaş tended towards non-figurative paintings.

1950s: Big Transformation

14- Şemsiyeli Kadınlar (Women with umbrellas) by Hamit Göreli (Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality City Museum)

A complete parallelism with the European art in Turkey can be seen as of 1950s. Artists followed different tendencies through individual perspective during those years. Surely, the rule of Democrat Party in 1950s, taking USA as an example instead of France on the basis of cultural policy caused abstract art, which was a rising tendency in the whole world originating from America, to dominate in this country as well. Moreover, looking back on the Ottoman past and discussions of the tradition issue determined the art in 1950s. Artists such as Turgut Zaim (d. 1974) and Malik Aksel who turned their face to traditional resources created local figure painting. D group artists or artists working in social context gravitated towards abstract style during those years. On the other hand, “Tavanarası Ressamları”, who maintained the figurative painting for a short time between 1951 and 1952 under the leadership of Nuri İyem and On’lar Group, trained in the academy and formed with principles such as rescuing Turkish painting from the imitation trap by turning to the traditional sources, made their presence felt in this period.

On’lar Group founded by Mustafa Esirkuş, Nedim Günsür, Leyla Gamsız (Sarptürk), Hulusi Sarptürk, Fahrünnisa Sönmez and Ivy Stangali from the students of Bedri Rahmi Eyüboğlu in the academy, who made his own way by including the adornment style of folk art, created a kind of cultural synthesis by using adorning arts.29 They had their first exhibition in the dining hall of the academy in 1947 and Turan Erol, Fikret Otyam, Mehmet Pesen and Adnan Varınca later joined the group as well.

Naile Akıncı, who worked independently after graduating from the academy, produced the most valuable works of art in classical line of Istanbul’s landscape throughout her life. Léopold-Lévy, the teacher of Naile Akıncı, worked particularly in Golden Horn and its surroundings, and those were important places in Naile Akıncı’s art as well. Eyüp and the Golden Horn sceneries were integrated with the artist’s life and she stated that the subject was her starting point30 (Picture 15).

The establishment of State Applied Fine Arts School as the second institution training in the field of art in Istanbul in this period between 1957 and 1958 could be considered to be an alternative to the prevalent academy tradition even if just a small one. Contribution to the developing industry of Turkey had an important place among the foundation goals of “Applied Arts” based on Bauhaus education model. There was a new quest in the education model directed towards design. The space notion in paintings and decorative art understanding focusing on materials were dominant, which was pretty different from the education of Fine Arts Academy that had the ongoing tradition since the seventeenth century France.31

The painting competition that was organized for the 10th year anniversary of Yapı Kredi in 1954 was one of the historical turning points of Turkish art history in terms of showing the reflection of Turkey’s changing socio-politic and economic image of 1950s in cultural life. The competition coincided with the gathering of International Association of Art Critics (AICA) and the world-renowned art critics visited Istanbul and comprised the jury of the competition. 36 painters from the academy circles and 38 paintings in total participated in the competition whose subject was “Profession and Production”. Aliye Berger, known mostly for her gravures, ranked the first with her large-scale abstract composition the result of this competition to which many artists such as Cemal Tollu and Bedri Rahmi Eyüboğlu reacted has actually a high significance that can be considered to be a thought revolution for the Turkish art history.

The most serious gallery enterprise of the period was Maya Arts Gallery set up by Adalet Cimcoz in 1950. However, it was shut down in 1955.

15- Kızlarağası (chief black eunuch of the imperial harem) by Şevket Dağ (Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality City Museum)

1960s and 1970s: When the Time Passed Faster

In 1960s, while the idea if Turkish art had a national character or not was in the major axis of arguments, it is possible to talk about more individual works rather than certain trends or groups as in previous years in a relatively free environment created by the 1961 Constitution. We see politicized art influenced by things such as the flow of the villager population into cities, influence of Marxist ideas and increasing social realism awareness.

On the other hand, there was a group of artists who were referred to as Paris school since they lived in Paris. Abidin Dino, Fikret Mualla, Selim Turan, Avni Arbaş, Nejad Melih Devrim, and Mübin Orhon (d. 1981) were among these artists who did not have a unified style. Komet, Yüksel Arslan, Tiraje Dimken, and Utku Varlık would join this school in the following years. Most of the artists living in Paris for many years came together through an exhibition organized in Istanbul in 1977.32 Burhan Doğançay, who lived in the USA, as of 1962 was engaged in mural paintings, which was the precursor of his strong place in the Turkish arts. Erol Akyavaş, who lived in New York, also reflected his unique world on his canvas that was fed by architecture, politics, arts, religion and many other ideas, beliefs, institutions, fiction and facts.

16- A painting by Şefik Bursalı (Central Bank)

Cihat Burak (ö. 1994), who attracted attention by taking part in Istanbul exhibitions after living in Paris for a while, became one of the most significant figures in the art of painting. Composition on Hagia Sophia (Picture 16), among the works of art of this artist, who had an anti-academic attitude portraying many different subjects, brought a new viewpoint towards Istanbul’s symbolized structure.

Artist Devrim Erbil, whose name was associated with Istanbul, painted the panoramic chaos of the city with rhythmical movements making use of the landscape understanding of miniatures and bright and grandiose colors. Erbil formed the Istanbul scenery, which was comprised of roofs, domes and minarets, by pushing the effect of a single color to the background with exaggerated black contour lines (Picture 17).

17- Beylerbeyi by Ali Halil Sözel (Central Bank)

The symbols of the identical history of Byzantine and Ottoman Empire with Istanbul, the abstract outlooks through unique color strokes on dark background or his paintings such as Mansions, Island, Wounded Tanker handled by Ömer Uluç (d. 2010) without breaking his connection with the sea as of 1960s constituted the start of a way that was directed towards his exhibition “The Course of Ferries” in 2007.

Şehir Gallery was one of the few places where artists could organize exhibitions in Istanbul during those years. Even though the number of the exhibitions increased distinctly, it was not the case for professional galleries. Kadıköy Democrat Party Center, American News Center, French Culture Center and Turkish-German Institute Gallery were the other primary places for exhibitions. The only private gallery enterprise was Gallery 1 that was opened in Beyoğlu Bekar Street in 1968 and closed down after 4 years due to the lack of sales.33 Moreover, Mübin Orhon’s exhibition, which was comprised of big canvases in 1967, was planned to be held in the location, where Melda Kaptana “was engaged in women’s clothing” but the place had to be isolated from this identity and reserved just for the paintings as they took up a great space. This place would later become Melda Kaptana Art Gallery.34

The first Istanbul Festival, where different disciplines got together, took place between June 21 and July 5, while the art discussions were continuing in the 50th year of the Republic in 1973. Among the activities “Plastic Arts”, “Turkish Painting and Sculpting Art in the Last 50 Years” exhibitions that took place in the Art and Sculpture Museum jointly ventured by State Academy of Fine Arts, State School of Applied Fine Arts and Istanbul municipality were particularly significant.

Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts started hosting national and international exhibitions within Istanbul Festival as of 1973 when it was founded. The first open air exhibition called Istanbul Archeology Museums Art Exhibition and comprised of paintings, sculptures and ceramic works of art was organized in the yard of Archeology Museum between July 23 and August 6, 1973 in order to introduce artists and different kinds of art of the period to the public. Innovative works of contemporary artists such as Füsun Onur, Seyhun Topuz and Teoman Madra could be seen in these exhibitions. One of the goals of Istanbul Festival was to become international. This occasion, which was supported by state institutions and the private sector, turned into International Istanbul Biennial in late 1980s and took its place among the world biennials.35

18- Bosporus by Nüzhet Ayetullah Sümer (Central Bank)

The exhibitions organized by the Association of Visual Artists founded in 1975, New Inclinations exhibitions that took place biennially within Istanbul Arts Festival as of 1977 and A Section from the Pioneer Turkish Art which was organized in 1980 for the first-time added momentum to the arts environment, enabled new avant-garde styles and production find their place and brought a polyphonic structure in the arts environment.

Banks such as Turkey İş Bank, Ziraat Bank, Turkey Emlak Kredi Bank, Yapı Kredi Bank and Akbank in 1970s started providing logistics and financial support changing the perception that the biggest institution that encouraged arts was state.

19- A scene from Bosporus by Avni Arbaş (Central Bank)

20- Kariye by Bedri Rahmi Eyüboğlu (Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality City Museum)

The sale of paintings increased gradually until 1980s. Therefore, the need for private galleries that would organize the sales arose as well after 1950s. While Gallery Baraz opened in 1975 took on an important role in the activation of the Turkish painting market, Maçka Arts Gallery, founded in 1976, became one of the leading galleries that supported the contemporary art. The first big auction in Western style was held in a hotel in Istanbul in 1979.

The artists forming the Original Edition Istanbul Artists aimed to popularize the painting with engraving method in 1980s and this art was an important step in preventing the production styles from being pushed into the background. Fethi Kayaalp, Mustafa Pilevneli, Mürşide İçmeli, Ergin İnan, İsmail Türemen, Asım İşler, Aloş (Ali Teoman Germaner) and Süleyman Saim Tekcan were significant names that started working on engraving in addition to Mustafa Aslıer, who inclined towards figurative stacking.36 Moreover, Gündüz Gölönü continued to have gravures37 in the way of stylized panoramic landscape analysis such as Southwester in Istanbul of 1969 (Picture 18).

21- A scene from the part of Istanbul inside the walls by Devrim Erbil (Central Bank)

It is not possible to list all the artists, who either put Istanbul in the center of their paintings or put their easel and materials in Istanbul, in such a limited study. Therefore, there were inevitable generalizations in order to determine both an anthology and the inclinations that became prominent. Moreover, many people who did not directly mention Istanbul but applied Istanbul’s spirit of their era to their paintings were unfortunately excluded from this study.

The last point that should be specified is the discussions regarding the fact that the absolute center of art should not be Istanbul with the variation of art, artist attitudes, galleries, museums and education institutions and even that the art should not have a center with the changing media opportunities. Today, even though the structure with its center in one city is discouraged, even the quantitative data in every area of art still points to Istanbul. On the other hand, not approving this situation does not diminish our love for Istanbul.


1 It is necessary to add that Sezer Tansuğ emphasized that the tradition of scenery painting existed in Ottoman art but it did not “exceed the boundaries of abstract schemes” (See. Sezer Tansuğ, Çağdaş Türk Sanatı, Istanbul: Remzi Kitabevi, 2012, p. 93).

2 Sezer Tansuğ, Çağdaş Türk Sanatına Temel Yaklaşımlar, Ankara: Bilgi Yayınevi, 1997, p. 113.

3 Kıymet Giray, Sabancı Üniversitesi Sakıp Sabancı Müzesi Resim Koleksiyonundan Seçmeler, Istanbul: Sabancı Üniversitesi Sakıp Sabancı Müzesi, 2002, p. 138.

4 Nurullah Berk and Adnan Turani, Başlangıcından Bugüne Çağdaş Türk Resim Sanatı Tarihi, Istanbul: Tiglat Yayınları, 1981, vol. 2, p. 14.

5 Tansuğ, Çağdaş Türk Sanatına Temel Yaklaşımlar, p. 113.

6 Malik Aksel, Sanat Hayatı: Resim Sergisinde Otuz Gün, Istanbul: Kapı Yayınları, 2010, p. viii.

7 It was turned into a university and called Mimar Sinan University on July 20, 1982 and renamed as Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University by a university decision in 2003.

8 Nilüfer Öndin, Cumhuriyet’in Kültür Politikası ve Sanat 1923-1950, Istanbul: İnsancıl Yayınları, 2003, p. 172.

9 Yahya Kemal Beyatlı’s “Dear İstanbul” poem is referred.

10 Kıymet Giray, Cumhuriyet’in İlk Ressamları, Istanbul: Türkiye İş Bankası Kültür Yayınları, 2004, p. 18.

11 Kıymet Giray, Türk Resim Sanatının Bir Asırlık Öyküsü = The Centennial Tale of Turkish Painting, Istanbul: Kadir Has Üniversitesi Rezan Has Müzesi, 2009, vol. 2, p. 32.

12 Ahmet Kamil Gören, “Cumhuriyet’in İlk Yıllarında Resim Sanatı – 2: Yeniden Yapılanmaya Koşut Resim İnşa Etmek”, rh+sanat, 2003, no. 3, p. 52.

13 Giray, Cumhuriyet’in İlk Ressamları, p. 27.

14 Zeynep Şanlıer, “Sanat ve Tolum Açısından On Yıllık Bir Döküm”, Sanat Dünyamız, 2003, no. 89 (2003), p. 121.

15 Şanlıer, “Sanat ve Tolum Açısından On Yıllık Bir Döküm”, p. 135.

16 Erdoğan Tanaltay, Sanat Ustalarıyla Bir Gün, Istanbul: Sanat Çevresi Kültür ve Sanat Yayınları, 1989, p. 22.

17 H. Feridun Es, “Namık İsmail ile Röportaj”, Yedigün, 17 Nisan 1935, p. 110’dan aktaran Tansuğ, Çağdaş Türk Sanatına Temel Yaklaşımlar, p. 205.

18 Tansuğ, Çağdaş Türk Sanatına Temel Yaklaşımlar, p. 211.

19 Tansuğ, Çağdaş Türk Sanatına Temel Yaklaşımlar, pp. 206-207.

20 Öndin, Cumhuriyet’in Kültür Politikası, p. 152.

21 Ahmet Kamil Gören, “Cumhuriyet’in İlk Yıllarında Türk Resim Sanatı- 3: Ulusal Sanat Bilincinin Yaygınlaşması”, rh+sanat, 2003, no. 5, p. 56.

22 Berk and Turani, Başlangıcından Bugüne Çağdaş Türk Resim Sanatı Tarihi, p. 99.

23 Berk and Turani, Başlangıcından Bugüne Çağdaş Türk Resim Sanatı Tarihi, p. 114.

24 Şanlıer, “Sanat ve Tolum Açısından On Yıllık Bir Döküm”, p. 115.

25 Şeyda Üstünipek, “1936-1950 Yılları Arasında Güzel Sanatlar Akademisi: Léopol Lévy ve Atölyesi” (PhD thesis), Mimar Sinan Güzel Sanatlar University, 2009, p. 28.

26 Ayşe H. Köksal, “İstanbul’a Bir İyilik Yapan Yok Mu?” (29.08.2013), 29.08.2013,

27 Aksel, Resim Sergisinde Otuz Gün, p. 48.

28 Gören, “Cumhuriyet’in İlk Yıllarında Türk Resim Sanatı- 3, Ulusal Sanat Bilincinin Yaygınlaşması”, p. 60; Kaya Özsezgin, Başlangıcından Bugüne Çağdaş Türk Resim Sanatı Tarihi, Istanbul: Tiglat Sanat Galerisi, 1982, vol. 3, p. 49.

29 Özsezgin, Çağdaş Türk Resim Sanatı Tarihi, vol. 3, p. 62.

30 Üstünipek, “1936-1950 Yılları Arasında Güzel Sanatlar Akademisi”, p. 255.

31 Ayrıntılı bilgi için bk. Ahu Antmen, “Türk Sanatında Yeni Arayışlar (1960-1980)” (PhD thesis), Mimar Sinan Güzel Sanatlar University, 2005, vol. 1, pp. 46-47.

32 Tansuğ, Çağdaş Türk Sanatı, p. 253.

33 Antmen, “Türk Sanatında Yeni Arayışlar”, p. 51.

34 Melda Kaptana, Ben Bir Bizans Bahçesinde Büyüdüm, Istanbul: Yapı Kredi Yayınları, 2004, pp. 262-263 narrated by Antmen, “Türk Sanatında Yeni Arayışlar”, p. 53.

35 For detailed information on all exhibitions, see. Solmaz Bunulday, “1975- 2005 Arası Türkiye Sanat Üretiminde Toplu Sergiler ve Kavramsallaştırma” (PhD thesis), Mimar Sinan Güzel Sanatlar University, 2008, p. 45.

36 Tansuğ, Çağdaş Türk Sanatı, pp. 308-309.

37 Tansuğ, Çağdaş Türk Sanatı, p. 276.

This article was translated from Turkish version of History of Istanbul with some editions to be published in a digitalized form in 2019.