Opening of the “Osman Hamdi Bey” exhibition at the Museum of Painting and Sculpture in Istanbul


When higher education in fine arts is mentioned in a conversation in Turkey, the first state institution that naturally comes to mind is Mimar Sinan University of Fine Arts (MSGSÜ), which sits on the banks of the Fındıklı district in the Beyoğlu district of Istanbul. The pioneering school not only provides an education that combines different disciplines, but also educates the country’s leading artists.

MSGSÜ celebrates its 140th anniversary with many events including workshops, conferences and exhibitions this year. Events began with the launch of the school’s central library, which was renovated according to plans by Turkish architect Sedad Hakkı Eldem, in early March. On the occasion of the reopening of the library, the family of the famous Turkish poet Edip Cansever donated some of the poet’s books as well as his desk, his glasses, his handwritten notes and his typewriter. The literary figure’s personal effects will be permanently displayed in a corner of the library, which will become a living space with various activities to be organized for the rest of the year.

A view of the central library of the MSGSÜ.

Celebration events, however, are not limited to the central library. Before diving into the details of some of these spectacular events, which will continue throughout the year, let’s take a look at the history of MSGSÜ for a more in-depth look.

MSGSÜ was founded as “Sanayi-i Nefise Mektebi” on January 1, 1882, when Sultan Abdülhamid II officially appointed the famous Turkish painter, art historian, archaeologist and museum curator Osman Hamdi Bey as director of the institution. While Osman Hamdi thought that this very first school of art in the Ottoman Empire should be close to Istanbul’s archeology museums, architect Alexandre Vallaury built a building for Sanayi-i Nefise Mektebi just opposite the main entrance to the museum. Beginning the education of young students in this small building with five classrooms and a workshop, the institute however needed larger spaces to meet the needs of the growing number of students over time.


Osman Hamdi Bey.  (Wikimedia)
Osman Hamdi Bey. (Wikimedia)

Therefore, later the school was moved to many different buildings including Cağaloğlu Language School. Meanwhile, an art school for female students was also opened at Zeynep Hanım Mansion in Eminönü in 1914. The teaching staff at this school was mainly provided by Sanayi-i Nefise Mektebi. In 1926, the two institutions merged and the twin palaces of Fındıklı, which were the former Ottoman parliament buildings, were assigned to the school. The school was renamed Academy of Fine Arts in 1928 and Mimar Sinan University in 1982. Since 2004, it has continued to teach artistic minds across the country as Mimar Sinan University of Fine Arts in historic palaces.

Tribute to Osman Hamdi Bey

Among the events of the 140th anniversary, the most interesting was an exhibition dedicated to Osman Hamdi Bey, the founder of MSGSÜ. Named after the master artist, the exhibition showcases his paintings, diplomas, certificates and the materials he used to paint at the MSGSÜ Museum of Painting and Sculpture in Istanbul.


A view of the MSGSÜ exhibition at the Istanbul Museum of <a class=Painting and Sculpture
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A view of the MSGSÜ exhibition at the Istanbul Museum of Painting and Sculpture.

The “Osman Hamdi Bey” exhibition is the most comprehensive exhibition ever prepared and inaugurated for the famous artist. During their visit, enthusiasts first discover the personal history of Osman Hamdi Bey and continue to discover his works separated into three sections: “landscape”, “portrait” and “orientalist paintings”. The last part of the exhibition offers an insight into the world of Osman Hamdi Bey with his personal painting objects and makes visitors proud with the showcase of the artist’s honorary certificates.

personal past

Born as the eldest child of an Ottoman statesman, Osman Hamdi Bey studied law school in his youth. But his interest in painting made him give up law and Osman Hamdi began to study under the French painter Gustave Boulanger and exhibited paintings in Paris between 1866-1868. When his son failed to graduate from the law department and instead devoted his time to art, Osman Hamdi Bey’s father, Ibrahim Edhem, called him back to Istanbul. Shortly after his arrival, Osman Hamdi Bey was sent to Baghdad as a foreign affairs attaché, which gave him a close acquaintance with the Eastern world.


The Rector of the MSGSÜ, Professor Handan Inci Elçi, poses with
MSGSÜ rector Prof. Handan Inci Elçi poses with ‘Woman with mimosa’ at the Istanbul Painting and Sculpture Museum, Istanbul, Turkey, March 31, 2022. (AA)

After returning to Istanbul, Osman Hamdi Bey held various official positions, including Deputy Director of the Foreign Protocol Department, Director of the Foreign Correspondence Department, and Director of the Foreign Press Department. However, he once again gave up his career in public service for the love of painting.

After the death of the director of the Imperial Museum in Istanbul, Philipp Anton Dethier, Osman Hamdi Bey was appointed this time director of the museum. Under his leadership, the museum has reached the same standards as European museums. And the Imperial Museum carried out various excavations and again presented the finds to enthusiasts during his post. Osman Hamdi, later in 1882, was appointed director of the new Sanayi-i Nefise Mektebi and continued in both positions until his death in 1910. In addition to his duties, he also continued to paint continuously throughout of her career.

Work in three categories

Osman Hamdi Bey created his Orientalist paintings in an academic style, while his smaller-scale portraits are more naturalistic. His rare landscapes bear impressionist influences.

Osman Hamdi painted famous Orientalist works, like “The Dervish at the Children’s Tomb” – featured at the exhibition – for European buyers and has never exhibited such works in Turkey except for a few one-off exhibitions. He used oriental settings and spaces in these works that appealed to European viewers. What differentiated his paintings from other great Orientalist artists like Jean-Léon Gérôme was that he told his own world and his own culture in these works. His paintings, where each element was reflected as an ethnological document, were more realistic for European amateurs because they were painted by an Ottoman and Muslim artist. Indeed, his Orientalist work did not include the exaggerated nudity, violence and eroticism that is attributed to the Eastern world in the works of European artists. Instead, they offered a glimpse into daily life in the Orient with characters dressed in Oriental style.,



“The Dervish at the Children’s Tomb”. (Wikimedia)

Regarding the portraits of Osman Hamdi Bey, it may be appropriate to say that these depictions of his family members and friends are the painter’s most sincere works. In the MSGSÜ exhibition, besides his “An Italian Girl” and “Boy Wearing a Fez”, other portraits represent his wife Naile Hanım, his daughter Nazlı, his son Edhem and his cousin Tevfik. Unlike his Orientalist paintings made for European viewers, these works are generally composed on a smaller scale. However, “Woman with a mimosa”, which is the favorite of the MSGSÜ exhibition, attracts attention with its largest size among the portraits. And the fact that he depicts his wife Naile Hanım on such a large canvas increases the romantic value of the work.

Other works featured in the exhibition include landscapes by Osman Hamdi Bey. The artist was not actually a landscape painter and painted very few landscapes, unlike his contemporaries. In his landscapes, he depicts Baghdad, Saida, Gebze and Eskihisar. However, Sultan Abdülhamid was an admirer of his landscapes. Therefore, he appointed Osman Hamdi as court artist and commissioned a painting of a large landscape.

Enthusiasts can visit the “Osman Hamdi Bey” exhibition at Istanbul Painting and Sculpture Museum to understand the famous artist’s work with a deeper insight until the end of the year.

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