Our First Female Artist as Art Teacher…
On the 95th year of the death of Müfide Kadri Hanım (1890/1912)

Curator: Haşim Nur Gürel

The late Nüvit Özdoğru commemorated Müfide Kadri Hanım on her 100th birthday in one of his texts, so considerate to art, which was published in Milliyet Art Magazine, as we later found out to be written in the final days of 1990. Today, 17 years later, Eczacıbaşı Virtual Museum remembers her on her 95th birthday with the images of 16 of her works together with what is known about her and some comments on her works. Five years later on her 100th birthday, this might allow us to make a contribution towards bringing together more of the works of this first female art teacher, in a physical exhibition and remember her once more.

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Family friend and famous musicologist Rauf Yekta Bey descirbes Müfide Kadri’s early years as the following: “(…) When I first saw Müfide, she was five-six years old. Playing in the large garden of their mansion in Çamlıca she gave extreme joy to her parents. (…) Müfide never attended school, started getting private lessons from the age of seven-eight. Once I was staying the night. She took me to the selamlık room [common guest room in Ottoman Period for formal occasions], which had transformed into a full-equipped study. She showed me her books and notes. I imagine that her passion for art came about when Müfide was about ten. When I first saw her initial works in watercolour, I applauded her in every way that I could, since for her age they were magnificent. Müfide’s love for art can be attributed to the natural beauty of the location of their house.”(1)

The early period works chosen for the Virtual Museum are pieces that have possible influences from 19th century French paintings, Barbizon paintings, influences from Corot, images from works created in the mentioned period and works where the starting-point may have been a photograph or a postcard. These early age works of the artist can be seen as an enthusiastic effort to improve her painting techniques and better utilise different materials without any help from a tutor.

Müfide Hanım’s 1970-1908 dated piece named “Love on the Beach / Sahil’de Aşk” must have been the most important work which caught the attention of Osman Hamdi Bey. This theory is supported by the fact that this piece is the most important Müfide Kadri work among the Istanbul Art & Sculpture Collection in the Mimar Sinan University of Fine Arts.

Also, the date of the painting supports our thought in that; the artist received private lessons from Osman Hamdi Bey during the years of 1907-1910. As a result we can also say that the artistic development of Müfide took place in the last five years of her short life and that her works which made her so famous were created in this period.

“Love on the Beach / Sahil’de Aşk” can be seen as a piece from a transitional period, following her childhood and right in between the research of her adolescence and works from her maturity stage. What is important here is that we start to notice that the artist has started to observe herself, her environment and the people around her.

This composition bringing together the image of a young Ottoman couple set in a background that resembles Fenerbahçe Peninsula in Istanbul together with a full-moon succeeds in reflecting the feelings of a young girl and her expectations in life. I especially would like to put some attention to the man, who with one hand caresses the girl’s arm with determination and with the other in his belt reflecting a feeling of confidence. Whilst the girl, portrayed in a white dress, as the symbol of innocence and purity, dreams of a happy future while the moon showers them with its light and the warmth of the man is close. It can be said that the success of this painting lies in the talent of being able to transfer the many different tones of white onto once again a white background in a uniform manner. Though it is small in size and lacks profound technique, the sincere feeling and sensitivity is very attractive.

Nüvit Özdoğru found appropriate to give the sub-title “angels with crowns, nature as god” for the images of Müfide Kadri’s work “Women on Pastures” or “The Picnic”, exhibited at Ankara Art and Sculpture Museum. And since he concludes that there are associations from Avni Lifij he interprets it as: “the dominance of a single colour-pink, and the gloom of a sunset. This gloom does not go as far as melancholy. The ladies and young girls in the picture are reserved, silent and happy. They listen to music. As the period saying goes “everyone at peace, tranquil and inner serenity. Sensitive; yet not over emotional. “Angels” with crowns shimmer in the pink light of the skies. The young artist, resting in the tones of pink in a transparent dream, may have remembered her teacher’s mentioning Swedenborg and decided to picture holy nature in that aged world where flowers bloom and nature becomes god.

Maybe the friendliest aspects of this painting are the figures that let on the vague indication of an untrained hand. It is this very frank naivety, not only with its colours but as a whole that give it such warmth.

Maurice Denis was an artist that composed innocent young girls set in symbolic mystical sceneries; but his are “cold”, frozen, everything is in complete balance. Müfide Kadri’s work lacks balance. As the eye follows each figure the picture suddenly slopes downwards on the right and gains momentum. This is why many theorists advise the use of unbalance, so the works are not frozen. They support their case with many masterpieces. It is a mystery if little Müfide Kadri learned this from one of her teachers or if it was instinct. This inclination can also be seen in her other works. I would not exchange the “untrained” Müfide Kadri for all the “masters” of all art schools.” (2)

One must generally agree to Özdoğru’s thoughtful remark. On the other hand, he does not mention the source of this “untrained” nature. It can be said that the source lies in the problems that come about with the scale and therefore perspective of the composition that constitutes individually observed and sketched the images of five women set in a meadow full of flowers. Even though, out of the three girls who sit in the foreground the ones on either side are seen from profile, the standing figure on the left and the one sitting in the middle have been placed in the composition with their faces semi-turned around. What gives the piece depth and in a way creates the perspective escape point is the figure of a girl obviously younger than her companions, stretched out on the grass, placed right above the girl sitting in the middle. As a matter of fact the scale and perspective problem is most obvious because of the lack of proportion between this 5th girl figure in the distance and the “larger” older looking woman figure standing just on the left.

Nüvit Özdoğru’s words on the artist’s portraits are: “There is nothing naive about Müfide Hanim’s painting “Young Güzin” which she completed when she was 20. The magnificence of a mature anatomy; rich in tonalities, a light that seeps out from the depths of the face to the cheeks, noble purity without overindulgence in sentimentality. Almost like a Renaissance, the plainness and beauty of Piero della Francesca. I really wonder if she, like Osman Hamdi Bey frequently did, enlarged paintings from a photograph? We might never find out the truth.

“(…) Müfide Hanım’s “Self Portrait” did not have this maturity. It looks jut like the painted stereotype faces that appeared in fashion magazines of the time. Maybe Müfide Hanım (with tuberculosis), knowing that she wasn’t so fortunate in terms of physical beauty, wanted to be like the young women of her times and tried to “idealise” her face.” (3)

The first two self-portraits and the portrait of Güzin Duran can be seen as the first attempts in painting in this style. The works of later years, examples of “figured interiors” such as “Girl Reading Book” and “Girl Praying” can be considered proof of how much she has advanced on the human figure, interiors, still life and portraits. All her talent is there in front of you. Both works have a sad atmosphere where the over-sensitivity of an ill and lonely soul can be openly felt. On one hand “Girl Reading Book”, which could be from a photograph reveals a European atmosphere, whilst on the other, set in the room of a softly lit Ottoman house adorned with oriental motifs and objects “Girl Praying” has a much better technique. At the same time for “Girl Praying” it can be said that it reflects the heartbreaking spiritual state of a person taking refuge in god, aware that death is only a few steps away.

The artwork “Barbaros Hayreddin Zırhlısı/Armoured Ship” depicted together with Yassı and Sivri islands is interesting in that one can see the determination of a person who wants to try her talent in all varieties of paintings. The piece, considered to have a point of view over looking Fenerbahçe Peninsula, is attractive for no human figure can be seen on the ship but the detail in all the equipment is very comprehensive.

It is highly possible that the painting “Still-Life” exhibited at İzmir Art & Sculpture Museum is the work that received an award from Germany because it is known as the largest piece of the artist and it has been prepared in accordance with the traditions of academic level contesting exhibitions. The scenery of a fishing boat and the Leander’s Tower out from the window in the upper left corner, the array of objects on the table including abundance of flowers and fruit, a china plate, a glass bowl, a Japanese ceramic vase and all of this detail created with the single knife typical to such still-life’s is fundamentally a test to her talent. On the right side, in the background one can sense the vaguely visible scenery of the sea extending across the wall. This image and the typical Istanbul silhouette seen out the window are in opposition but at the same time balance each other.

With works such as “Girl Praying” and “Still-Life with Scenery of Leander Tower”, it can be seen that, with the help of the lessons from Osman Hamdi Bey, Müfide Kadri Hanım created works just as good as the famous artists of the period. Nevertheless her last works that could be considered Orientalist, lack the attractiveness of a unique “untrained hand” as can be seen in “Love on the Beach and Women on Pastures”. In a way it can be said that, in these last works, professional technique and better understanding of history of art has replaced sincerity…

In 1990 Nüvit Özdoğru concluded his text as follows: ”I would wish that much before her 100th birthday, all Turkish cultural institutions cooperated and located all of Müfide Kadri Hanım’s works. In 1990 a comprehensive catalogue should be printed, conferences organised. Also a biographic film of this dramatic life should be produced and screened on TV. It would be a gift to world culture!

None of this is impossible, as long as there is determination and we succeed in keeping our values alive.”(4)

Seventeen years later, it is simply impossible not to agree. Maybe this virtual exhibition will be the first step in organizing real exhibitions and activities, five years later on her 100th birthday; just as late Nüvit Özdoğru’s text was an inspiration to this virtual exhibition…

(1) Toros, Taha, Our First Female Artists, Ak Yayınları Sanat Kitapları Serisi:12-1, 1988, page 19.
(2) Özdoğru, Nüvit, Milliyet Art Magazine Issue 255 / 1 January 1991, page 34
(3) A.g.y., page 35 -36
(4) A.g.y., page 36

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