National Palaces Painting Museum – Istanbul

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The elegant Painting Museum Istanbul

I walked into the National Palaces Painting Museum in Istanbul hoping to see a particular painting by Hasan Vecih Bereketoğlu and left having discovered a wealth of early modern Turkish and foreign artists I never knew existed. The museum is housed in the former residences of the Crown Princes and entry is included in the ticket for Dolmabahçe Palace. I’ve had it on my ‘to visit’ list ever since the wing was opened as a museum in 2014 but only made it there in May 2018.

The building itself has been beautifully restored. Just look up and delight in the ceilings in any of the rooms and you’ll see what I mean. Unfortunately it’s forbidden to take photos in order to protect the decorations, so my words will have to suffice. Without a doubt, the Ceremony Hall is glorious. The hand painted ceiling teems with colourful flowers, barking peacocks, and opulent depictions of land and water fowl. Elaborate swathes of gold leaf frame the panels reflecting light from a huge chandelier. The hall is dedicated to the work of Ivan Konstantinovic Ayvazovski and holds 31 of his paintings. They’re mainly seascapes which reflect his passion for the work of English artist JMW Turner. However one small piece, titled ‘Moonlight in Eyup’, caught my eye for its romantically delicate rendering of a typical Istanbul landscape.

The smaller rooms spread over two floors contain works by other artists, both Turkish and foreign. Fausto Zonaro’s work, “The Parade of Ertegrul cavalry parade on Galata Bridge” (1901) was given to Sultan Abdulhamid. He in turn awarded Zonaro with a Royal Order and made him the Royal Court Painter. Zonaro also painted “Salacak: The Maiden’s Tower” and a portrait of Fatih Sultan Mehmet. Other foreign painters exhibited here include Pierre Desire Guillemet. He painted portraits of the women of the harem and founded the first painting school in Turkey in Pera in 1874. The wonderful Istanbul street scenes of Fabius Germain Brest give a great sense of what daily life must have been like in Ottoman times. The detailed mosque interiors in graphic style by W E Caruana are wonderful, as is Theodore Van Ryssekberghe’s painting of Galata Bridge in Pointilist style.

As I walked through the halls I took time to read the information panels. I learned that many Turkish painters rose to fame for their work as Aide-de-Camp painters, an early form of war artist. I’m not a big fan of military art, so I much preferred the work of the Turkish civilian painters. Artists such as Hoca Ali Riza whose wonderful works include one of Fenerbahçe Park as it was in 1929, and scenes from Paşabahçe and streets full of plane trees. The marvellous portraits of the young royals by Abdulmecid Efendi where they look like ordinary kids, happy and free of care. And of course, there’s my absolute favourite Turkish artist, Osman Hamdi Bey. The museum has a lovely example of his typical ornamental style. A palace chamber, complete with latticed windows, rich rugs and carved wooden furniture, is the setting for a young lady having her hair combed. More unusual for Hamdi Bey but equally splendid is a small luminous canvas called the “The Coast”. It’s a landscape with lovely clean bright colours and a sharply clear light.

I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to the museum even though I’m still waiting to see Bereketoğlu’s beautiful work “Salacak in the Morrning”. I found out it’s been moved to the Mimar Sinan Collection which will be on display in the new Istanbul Modern building. The new exhibition building has been designed by Italian Renzo Piano and is expected to be completed in about three years. In the meantime, if you haven’t discovered Turkey’s wealth of talented painters, now’s your chance.

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