Osman Hamdi Bey, (1842 İstanbul - 24 February 1910 İstanbul) was a prominent and pioneering Turkish painter. He was also an accomplished archaeologist, and is considered as the pioneer of the museum curator's profession in Turkey. He was the founder of Istanbul Archaeology Museums and of İstanbul Academy of Fine Arts (Sanayi-i Nefise Mektebi in Turkish), known today as the Mimar Sinan University of Fine Arts.
Osman Hamdi was born into a family of the ruling class of the Ottoman Empire
(He was the son of İbrahim Edhem Pasha
, a former Grand Vizier
). He went to primary school in the popular İstanbul quarter of Beşiktaş
, after which he studied Law, first in İstanbul (1856), and then in Paris
(1860). However, he decided to pursue his interest in painting instead, left the law program, and trained under French orientalist painters Jean-Leon Gerome
and Gustave Boulanger
During his nine-year stay in Paris, the international capital of fine arts in that period, he showed a keen interest for the artistic events of his day. Osman Hamdi married a French woman and had two daughters with her. They accompanied him to Istanbul
when he returned in 1869.
Once back in Turkey, he was sent to the Ottoman province of Baghdad, as part of the administrative team of Midhat Pasa, who would later become an important reformer of the Tanzimat. In 1871, he returned to İstanbul, as the vice-director of the Protocol Office of the Palace. During the 1870s, he worked on several assignments in the upper echelons of the Ottoman bureaucracy.
Osman Hamdi exhibited three paintings at the 1867 Paris Exposition Universelle. None seem to have survived today, but their titles were Repose of the Gypsies
, Black Sea Soldier Lying in Wait
, and Death of the Soldier
An important step in his career was his assignment as the director of the Imperial Museum (Müze-i Hümayun) in 1881. He used his position as museum director to develop the museum and rewrite the antiquities laws and to create nationally sponsored archaeological expeditions. In 1882, he instituted and became director of the Academy of Fine Arts, which provided Otttomans with training in aeshetics and artistic techniques without leaving the empire. In 1884, he oversaw the promulgation of a Regulation prohibiting historical artifacts from being smuggled abroad (Asar-ı Atîka Nizamnamesi)
, a giant step in constituting a legal framework of preservation of the antiquities. Representatives or middlemen of 19th century European Powers routinely smuggled artifacts with historical value from within the boundaries of the Ottoman Empire (which then comprised the geographies of ancient Greek
civilizations, among others), often resorting to shadily obtained licences or bribes, to enrich museums in European capitals.
He conducted the first scientific based archaeological researches done by a Turkish team. His digs included sites as varied as the Commagene tomb-sanctuary in Nemrut Dağı in southeastern Anatolia (a top tourist's venue in Turkey and a UNESCO World Heritage Site today, within the Adıyaman Province), the Hekate sanctuary in Lagina in southwestern Anatolia (also much visited, and within the Muğla Province today), and Sidon in Lebanon. The sarcophagi he discovered in Sidon (including the one known as the Sarcophagus of Alexander the Great) are considered among the worldwide jewels of archaeological findings. To lodge these, he started building what is today the Istanbul Archaeology Museum in 1881. The museum officially opened in 1891 under his directorship.
Throughout his professional career as museum and academy director, Osman Hamdi continued to paint in the style of his teachers, Gerome and Boulanger.
He was the granduncle of another famous name in Turkey. The mother of Cemal Reşit Rey
, one of the five pioneers of classical music in Turkey (termed the 'The Turkish Five
') in the first half of the 20th century, was his niece. It is notable indeed that his family produced a considerable number of renowned people. Halil Edhem Eldem
(the surname "Eldem" has been adopted by the family with the civil records reform by the nascent Republic of Turkey
in 1928) took up the archaeology museum after Osman Hamdi Bey's death and has also been a deputy for ten years under in the Turkish Grand National Assembly
. Sedat Hakkı Eldem
is a remarkable architect who left his imprint on the architectural school of the early years of the Republic
. Yet another son, İsmail Galib Bey
, is considered as the founder of numismatics
as a scientific discipline in Turkey
. Later generations of the family also produced illustrious names.
The Tortoise Trainer
His 1906 painting, "The Tortoise Trainer
", recently broke a record in Turkey by being sold for the amount of 3,5 million Dollars
in December 2004. The painting expresses a sarcastic innuendo
on the painter's own view of his style of work compared to those of his collaborators and apprentices, and is also a reference to the historical fact of tortoises having been employed for illuminative and decorative purposes, by placing candles on the shell, in evening outings during the Tulip Era
in the early 18th century. The painting was acquired by the Suna and İnan Kıraç Foundation
and is currently on display at the Pera Museum
, which was established by this foundation.
For another painting by Osman Hamdi Bey, see the article on Milas carpet