Born on the Asian side of Istanbul in Kadıköy in 1886, İbrahim Feyhaman was orphaned nine years later. His father had been a poet and calligrapher. His mother’s dying wish was that Feyhaman attend the Lycée Impérial Ottoman de Galata-Sérai; his maternal grandfather, Duran Çavuş, saw that this happened. Some time after graduation, headmaster Tevfik Fikret had Feyhaman come back to Galatasaray to teach calligraphy.
In an October 2015 article called “Pictures,” I wrote about a visit to Tevfik Fikret’s house Aşiyan, which overlooks the Bosphorus near the Rumeli Hisarı, the fortress built by Sultan Mehmet II to control traffic in the strait in preparation for the conquest of Constantinople in 1453.
In 1952, Feyhaman recalled that when he was 24, he was sometimes a guest at the Hasip Pasha yalısı in Beylerbeyi. This was across the Bosphorus from Ortaköy, site of the Reina nightclub massacre, which happened on the eve of the new year of 2017.
In Beylerbeyi, Feyhaman came to know an Englishwoman, Miss Trité, whose portrait he offered to draw. According to him, she was not beautiful; but apparently he had a desire, developed at least in later years,
to find a very ugly person and paint their portrait. He never covered up the flaws of his models, and even exaggerated them on occasion. At that time portraiture was not a favoured branch of art, and for the most part people expected that this expensive and ostentatious way of obtaining a likeness would depict them as more attractive then they really were. Feyhaman found this attitude difficult to accept.
So reports Gül İrepoğlu, who wrote a doctoral dissertation on Feyhaman under the supervision of Nurhan Atasoy. My main source for the present account of the artist’s life is Gül Hanım’s article in the catalogue for an exhibit of Feyhaman’s paintings.
Back in 1910, Miss Trité declined to be drawn by Feyhaman; instead she gave him a photograph of a young girl. Feyhaman drew the girl, who turned out to have been in the charge of Miss Trité: she was Tevfika, daughter of one Prince Abbas Halim Pasha. Impressed by his daughter’s portrait, the prince summoned Feyhaman to his residence on Heybeliada. He sent Feyhaman to Paris to study painting on a monthly allowance of 15 liras, to be drawn from the Crédit Lyonnais. Feyhaman’s salary at Galatasaray had been three liras.
Like other Turks studying in Paris, Feyhaman had to return to Istanbul with the outbreak of war in 1914. In 1919, he began teaching at the School of Fine Arts for Girls, part of the institution that ultimately became my present university. My December 2014 article “Bosphorus Sky” touched on the art school’s physical history, along with its original name, Mekteb-i Sanayi-i Nefise-i Şâhâne. In 1922, Feyhaman married a student from the school, Güzin Hanım. Feyhaman had no house, but Tevfika, Abbas Halim Pasha’s daughter, gave the newly-weds a place to live in Baltalimanı. This was where my spouse and I attended the wedding celebration of friends in 2003.
Feyhaman and Güzin went across the Bosphorus to live in 1924, in a house belonging to her maternal uncle, the musician and musicologist Rauf Yekta Bey. After the adoption of the Surname Law in 1934, Feyhaman chose as his family name the name of his grandfather, Duran. This means “stopping” in Turkish, but for all I know it has another meaning in Arabic or Persian. In 1936, the Duran couple moved to a house in Beyazıt, near Istanbul University; this house also belonged to Güzin’s family. Güzin lived in the house until her death in 1981, her husband having predeceased her in 1970.
Gül İrepoğlu paints a portrait of Feyhaman’s married life that sounds somewhat familiar:
The artist’s entire life was devoted to his art and his beloved wife Güzin Hanım. Feyhaman continued to work at the Academy of Fine Arts, and spent almost all of the rest of his time painting at home. He made many portraits of Güzin Hanım, who taught painting at Istanbul High School for Girls. Since they had no children, their incomes were sufficient, therefore Feyhaman was able to work without worrying whether his paintings would sell or not. Their modest way of life was inexpensive. The couple’s greatest pleasures were conversing with one another, painting and being close to nature. Feyhaman loved painting flowers but did not like picking them. ‘I do not enjoy picking flowers. It seems to me like cutting off a man’s head. I just paint them,’ he used to say. So his wife used to pick the flowers he wanted and arrange them for Feyhaman to paint.
“You should not be upset if they do not understand you,” Ms İrepoğlu quotes Feyhaman as saying. “You must strive to understand yourself.”
Though I had seen some of Feyhaman’s paintings, I would not have been able to name him as the artist before Saturday, March 18, 2017. This was when, with my spouse, I visited the exhibit called “Feyhaman Duran: Between Two Worlds,” at the Sabancı Museum. This was up the Bosphorus towards the Black Sea, beyond Baltalimanı, at Emirgan, a place last visited in this blog in “Early Tulips,” March 2016.
On a Saturday morning in March 2017, the first sunny morning we had had in Istanbul for some days if not weeks, there was almost nobody in the Sabancı Museum. I was astonished, and somewhat disappointed, since experience suggested a lot more people would have come out for an exhibition of foreign artists. The paucity of visitors for a domestic artist might be a symptom of the ongoing Turkish identity crisis, the crisis reflected in the rather hackneyed title of the exhibit. Turkey is always between two worlds, be they Ottoman and republican, or Muslim and Christian, or Asian and European, Eastern and Western, traditional and progressive.
Maybe I have just not visited the Sabancı Museum enough to know its patterns. More visitors were arriving as Ayşe and I went out to have lunch.
Though some of them belonged to the Sabancı Museum, most of the works of Feyhaman on exhibit belonged to Istanbul University, to which the artist had left his collection. I don’t know how many of his works are in other hands. It seems Istanbul University was renovating its buildings, and it needed somewhere to store Feyhaman’s works. Not knowing this, the Sabancı Museum had already requested some of those works for an exhibit. Istanbul University then asked the Museum to take all of the paintings.
The Istanbul University collection includes Feyhaman’s house in Beyazıt, the house that had come from Güzin Hanım’s family. Apparently Turkish law had considered the house to belong to the husband. After Güzin Hanım’s death, when her family sued for possession of the house and its contents, a judge ruled in favor of Feyhaman’s will of 1962, whereby the widow could live in the house till death, but then it and its art collection would pass to the University. Nurhan Atasoy found witnesses who could testify in court as to what Feyhaman’s true wishes had been, and this was enough for the judge.
The incident recalls to me a remark in a wonderfully succinct report on a marriage in Europe, three years after that of Feyhaman and Güzin. The report is by Janet Flanner and was originally in the New Yorker; it was reprinted in Paris Was Yesterday (New York: Viking Press, 1972; reprinted as a Harvest/HBJ book):
Tristan Tzara, founder of the Dada movement, which most people seem to think has something to do with bad taste in modern pictures, has just married the daughter of a rich Swedish industrialist. Too rarely poor poets marry well. Tzara is probably the most sensitive and original French poet today, aside from not being French at all, but Rumanian. No one has written more foolishly at times, but many have written almost as foolishly and never once so well. He and his wife, on what the French law now probably calls his money, are building a huge modernist house in Montmartre. Tzara is a great man of small stature and wears a monocle.
Flanner may intend to question the sexism of French law, but she herself identifies artist Greta Knutson only as the daughter of somebody and the wife of somebody else. Still, perhaps it is more usual for a woman to be counted as marrying well by marrying wealth. In any case, next to Flanner’s description of Dada, I must recall the definition of punk rock given among the Addenda of the sixth edition, in 1976, of the Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English: “style of simple rock music played with great vigour but lacking polish.”
I suppose Impressionism had taken a while to catch on because the style was thought to lack polish. By the time Feyhaman got to Paris, the style was established, and so this is what he learned. Meanwhile, the avant-garde had moved on.
At the Sabancı Museum, some of Güzin Hanım’s works were on display, along with mock-ups of rooms from the Duran house. The whole exhibit was quite impressive. It was also sad, both because Feyhaman painted many scenes of an Istanbul landscape that has now been obliterated by concrete, and because he painted at an all-but-forgotten time when Turkey believed it had a place in the West.
As usual with a large exhibit, I wanted to see its whole extent before dwelling in any one part of it. The Feyhaman exhibit continued on a lower floor, and when I got to the end there, I decided to work my way backwards. As a reminder, I photographed the paintings that impressed me the most.
Painting flowers against a variegated background must be a challenge. Feyhaman seemed up to the challenge in two paintings. One of these also apealled to me for recalling Van Gogh’s “Almond Blossom,” my favorite in the exhibit “Van Gogh’s Van Goghs: Masterpieces from the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam,” National Gallery of Art, 4 October 1998 – 3 January 1999. I saw Van Gogh’s painting again in Amsterdam in 2006, at the Van Gogh Museum itself, where it was on display among some Japanese Meiji objets d’art.
As for Feyhaman’s flowers in front of calligraphy, apparently the letters read “Allah.” Would somebody call it blasphemous to cover up the Divine Name in this way? Say rather that it only enhances the beauty of the calligraphy. According to Gül İrepoğlu, “Feyhaman was a person of strong religious faith”; but the quotation of Feyhaman that she uses to illustrate this is,
İnsan yaşamak için sevmelidir.
Allahını seven her şey sever.
Life is love.
One should love in order to live.
One who loves his God loves everything.
This as a warning not to take categorically such assertions as are found on the back of Malise Ruthven‘s Islam in the World (Penguin Books, 1991):
If Christianity is quintessentially a religion of love, Islam is first and foremost a religion of community and social justice.
Whatever their nominal religion, people adapt it to suit their needs. Concerning Ruthven’s book though, I want to note its value to me for explaining a “continuous encroachment on public space by private interests” (p. 176) that Ruthven illustrates with a description of Cairo. I see it in Turkey, and Ruthven explains it by “a singular fact of the Shari’a law: the absence of the Roman-law concept of ‘legal personality’ ” (p. 177). The state did not exist as such, and in particular it could not sue for theft of its property.
Whereas in late medieval Europe the cities came to be administered by powerful corporations representing the merchant classes, the Muslim city remained in certain respects a collection of villages in which the group interests of families predominated over class interest. This may have been the ‘original sin’ of the Muslim bourgeoisie in the Marxist sense: they failed to develop consciousness of themselves as a class, and never acted as one. It therefore seems quite wrong to assume, as do many Marxist writers, that this failure ‘must not be misinterpreted or attributed to Islam’.
Ruthven here (p. 178) cites the Cambridge History of Islam for the last quotation. “It therefore seems quite wrong,” he says; it might not actually be wrong. But I appreciate the demonstration that there can be legal systems different from the Roman one that Collingwood sometimes refers to in New Leviathan.
As for art, and for the painting of colorful figures on colorful backgrounds, the supreme example could be Degas’s “Four Dancers,” which apparently the artist thought to be one of his best works.
I once overheard a tour guide explain how the dancers were standing against a painted backdrop. But one cannot really tell that one is looking at a painting of a painting, unless one looks at the shadow of the arm of the leftmost ballerina. Writing about the painting in National Gallery of Art, Washington (New York: Abrams, 1984), John Walker suggests that,
In a way that would have been inconceivable for Eastern artists, these French painters were scientists, intent upon an analysis of vision.
The Degas painting in question makes me recall Escher; but the woodcut seems a better medium for his kind of game than the Impressionist’s brush.
In the Feyhaman show, I selected three portraits that impressed me.
I first took note of the middle portrait; but my standard for a good one is Rembrandt. The question is not about painting a good likeness, or making the viewer believe that a subject really did sit for the portraitist. Rembrandt can create a human being in the canvas. Feyhaman’s portrait of Ali Ekrem Bolayır made me wonder if he had seen Rembrandts in Paris.
He had seen Rembrandts. The exhibition catalogue reproduced Feyhaman’s copy of a Rembrandt self-portrait. If this was in the exhibit, I overlooked it. The subject of Feyhaman’s Rembrandt is older than in the self-portrait that I pair now with Feyhaman’s, from the exhibition catalogue cover:
As for Feyhaman’s two portraits of unnamed women, the pastel of the “Lady Wearing a Foulard” seems amazingly skilled, though I don’t personally care for the softness of pastel. I like better the smaller picture, of the woman with a scarf on her head: I like the globs of oil paint that rise of above the canvas, and especially the dots of white in the eyes.
I learned a new word in the Feyhaman exhibition. A sketch that “captures the colors and atmosphere of a scene” is a pochade. I had known the word for the other kind of sketch, a line sketch; but I had known this only through its Turkish form, kroki, which always sounded like a funny word to me. Apparently the French do say croquis, an eighteenth-century word derived from the onomatopoeic croc (which, in the Larousse dictionnaire d’étymologie , is distinguished from the word croc that is cognate with the English “crook”).
I have a dim memory of an exhibition somewhere, presumably in Washington, of early oil sketches made by Corot in the Italian countryside. Possibly the literature of the exhibition called these sketches pochades. The Phillips Collection has a Corot that I like and that I have taken to be one of those pochades; apparently it was made later in the artist’s life, in the 1860s, when Corot was about seventy. I last saw the work in 2014, as I reported in “June in the New World.”
The Phillips Collection website has an alternative to my snapshot:
Unfortunately there seem to be no better images available of Feyhaman’s paintings than my snapshots. Unfortunately too, perhaps, Feyhaman seems not to have been attracted to rural scenes. Perhaps in his day Istanbul itself was rural enough. He left behind a lot of pochades, which nobody but his wife may have seen before. I noted a few, such as one of the surface of the sea.
The movement of the artist’s hand reflects the movement of the water. This movement seems lacking in a pastel called “Mediterranean” by Sandra Fisher that was part of the Representation Abroad show at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, June 5 – September 2, 1985.
That show changed my life, by teaching me the point of representational art. I bought the catalogue and nearly wore out its spine. Unfortunately the catalogue uses color for only two works of each of the sixteen artists featured; and “Mediterranean” is not one of those works. Fisher’s “Louise” (1980) is one of them: this is the work that graces the cover of an edition of Sappho with translations by Thomas Meyer and illustrations by Fisher (Coracle Press, London). A note in the book reads, “A second edition of 150 copies published in 1985”: I suppose all of these copies were intended for sale at the Hirshhorn exhibition.
Apparently the subject of “Louise” killed herself for love, two weeks later, by jumping off a bridge; and Thomas Meyer posed for Fisher’s “Dying Slave,” also used in Sappho.
Feyhaman had some fine male nude pencil sketches in the Sabancı show, but I’m pretty sure the spectacular female nudes seen in the catalogue were missing.
There were however great arrays of Feyhaman’s pochades of scenery.
Apparently Büyükada was one place Feyhaman liked to work, painting the same scene at different times of day like Monet.
Perhaps Feyhaman had painted more large-scale landscapes than the two in the show. The one of Rumeli Hisarı over the water I enjoyed very much; the Bosphorus seen beyond a house ought perhaps to be considered the better composition, but it lacked depth.
Apparently during the second World War, Feyhaman spent time painting interiors at Topkapı Palace.
It is a challenge to depict an array of identically decorated tiles, and perhaps not a challenge that I would want to take up.
The portrait of calligrapher (hattat) Rıfat Efendi is one of the few of Feyhaman’s works that the Sabancı Museum sells in reproduction. I like the image of a man at a bookrest (rahle), but do not understand the angle of his head. If he is looking at what he is writing with his right hand, I do not know why the writing materials are not visible. But apparently this portrait has crowd appeal. I did buy a printed reproduction for myself.
I was nearing the beginning of the exhibit, where a row of Feyhaman’s paintings from Paris were on display. These were some of the best works in the show.
We left the museum around half past noon.
On the way upward and inland, I was amused by a billboard that was apparently touting a jacket that read, “Rebellion Becomes Duty.”
On the campus of Istanbul Technical University, a mosque was under construction. In today’s Turkey, such buildings are apparently considered a priority.
A sculpture by the University entrance at the Ayazağa subway station was new.