fine arts from Turkey



All resources were mobilized in the field of fine arts in Turkey as of the first years of the Republic, towards a more dynamic and progressive production of art by also benefiting from a backlogue of the past. The modernization that accelerated under the leadership of Ataturk, and with the following of the thought and art movements in Europe in a conscious and sensitive manner, paved the way for the creation of the cul- ture and art of the new Republic. In fact, today it is observed that a "Modern Turkish Art" language has been formed which represents Turkey at an international level, in which the individual styles are prominent and in which regional motifs and subjects gain importance. Within "Modern Turkish Art" based on an East-West synthesis the cultural values of the "past and future" also exist by being blended together.


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"At the gate of Karaman Medresse" by Osman Hamdi Bey

Painting in the western sense started to develop in Turkey in the nineteenth century. Artists such as Namik Ismail, Ibrahim Calli, Avni Lifij, Feyheman Duran and Hikmet Onat, who had their art education in Europe in the 1910s, became impressionists. These artists, who are known as the 1914 Generation , influenced the development of painting in the early Republic Period. Extensive research carried out by Public Centers (Halkevleri) on Anatolian peoples' art and culture in the 1930s influenced many artists and caused them to deal with the issues raised in the wake of the findings of the research.

In this period, the D Group, established by Zeki Faik Izer, Nurullah Berk, Elif Naci, Cemal Tollu, Abidin Dino and sculptor Zuhtu Muridoglu, ignored the impressionist tendencies and set out to create a joint language, and sought to achieve a synthesis between certain elements of traditional Turkish art and the ideas of the new art movements in Europe, between local color and western techniques and between domestic "soul" and the universal artistic ideals

Within the art and culture development program, which gained momentum after the 1930s, the Academy of Fine Arts in Istanbul, which was called Sanayi-i Nefise Mektebi until 1936, was restructured. It was taken under the structure of the Ministry of National Education. A French artist, Leopold Levy, was appointed as the chairman of the painting department between 1949 and 1950. Levy's students founded a group aptly called the Yeniler Grubu (The New Group) which was the most important group in the field of painting after the D Group and which experimented with new styles and new techniques. The members of this group, who continued exhibitions until 1955, were focused on social issues in the beginning, but later distanced themselves from the social-realistic manner of expression.

In the 1950s, when the art movements were followed more closely, the first abstract painters emerged in Turkey. Among these are Adnan Coker, Lutfu Gunay, Semsi Arel, Abidin Elderoglu and Sabri Berkel who tried to give a traditional and local touch to abstract forms by using calligraphy. Neset Gunal's paintings on social issues, the miniature-like paintings of Devrim Erbil, Cihat Burak's paintings which have traces from folk art, the animal figures and Anatolian landscapes of Orhan Peker which he painted with staining techniques, are all examples of the diversity of figurative tendencies in the 1960s and the 1970s. By the 1970s, many artists managed to reach some synthesis between the competing tendencies such as abstract-figurative and universal-domestic. Meanwhile pioneering and experimental works were supported by the annual exhibition "New Tendencies" held within the framework of the Istanbul Art Festival, which was first organized in 1977. Since 1980, conceptual art works are also common along with the traditional paintings on canvas.

Miniatures from the Topkapi Museum

H. Avni Lifij

Sevket Arman

Avni Oztopcu


During the period of drawing nearer to the West in the cultural sense, that started in the final years of the Ottoman period, there was a revival in the field of sculpture as there was in the other fields of art. The activities were also continued in the Republic period to develop the art of sculpture. Series of archaeological excavations, called "National Excavations", were made in order to unearth the sculptural heritage of former civilizations. Foreign masters in the field who were imported, instructed young talents, and successful students were sent abroad for education. In 1937, German sculptor Rudolf Belling was appointed the chairman of the Department of Sculpture at the State Academy of Fine Arts. Belling who served as a professor at the Academy until 1954 trained many students and continued to produce sculptures. He is the sculptor of the Inonu monuments at the Istanbul Taslik Park and on the campus of the Ankara University's Faculty of Agriculture. One of the most important sculpture exhibitions in Turkey was also realized by Belling at the Taskisla building of the Istanbul Technical University.

The first period in this field of art, which lasted until the 1950s, in which monuments and sculptures of Ataturk were given priority, was dominated by foreign masters such as Krippel, Canonica, Hanak, Thorak and Belling. However, Turkish sculptors had important successes in the monument competitions which started to be organized as of 1937. For instance, Ali Hadi Bara won the first prize and Zuhtu Muridoglu was placed   second in the design competition

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"Yalnızlık" (Loneliness) by Huseyin Gezer

for the Erzurum Monument , and Nejat Sirel won the first prize in the competition for the Manisa Monument in which foreign sculptors had also taken part.

Many of the sculptors who started their professional life in the 1950s, such as Hakki Atamulu, Yavuz Gorey, Kamil Sonad, Ilhan Koman, Huseyin Gezer and Turgut Pura, were the students of Belling. Even those sculptors whose works are mainly figurative have also experimented with figurative-abstract works. However, some of them, namely Ilhan Koman, Sadi Calik and Turgut Pura, produced mainly abstract sculptures. Among them, Ilhan Koman held many exhibitions abroad and won prizes in numerous competitions.

Hadi Bara and Zuhtu Muridoglu influenced the Academy's Department of Sculpture after the 1950s. Abstractionist approaches and the use of various contemporary tools and techniques were characteristics of this period. Sculptors such as Tamer Basoglu, Kuzgun Acar, Gurdal Duyar and Namik Denizhan are the main representatives of this school. Kuzgun Acar, who won the first prize at the Paris Youth Biennial in 1961, produced some very interesting abstract sculptures. For instance, Kuslar (The Birds), an iron relief in front of the Istanbul Manifaturacilar Carsisi (Istanbul Textiles Bazaar), is his work. Mehmet Aksoy who brought new dimensions to figurative sculpture, Ferit Ozsen who produced abstract works with metal and stone material, Saim Bugay and Hayri Karay who attracted attention with their woodworks and Metin Haseki, are some of the other noteworthy contemporary sculptors.


Photography, which has a history dating back to the 1850s, experienced a rapid development during the early decades of the Republic Period. New techniques developed in the West were imported and the press started using photographs extensively. Turkish photographers of the period started to take pictures of the daily life of people, towns and cities and historical buildings in Turkey. Landscape photography also developed. The first photography competition was organized in 1932. Meanwhile courses in photography were included in the curriculum of schools and photographers' associations were established in the 1930s.

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Photographer Ara Güler

Cemal Isiksel, Nurettin Erkilic, Selahattin Giz, Limasollu Naci, Sinasi Barutcu, Ihsan Erkilic and Baha Gelenbevi are the first important photographers of the Early Republic Period. The first seeds of artistic photography were sown by the generation of artists who were raised in the 1950s.

One of the most important photographers of this generation is Ara Guler, who looks at local subjects from the point of view of a contemporary artist and with remarkable skill. Recognized as a distinguished artist not only in Turkey but throughout the world, Ara Guler, who is regarded by some critics as being among the best ten photographers in the world, has also taken pictures for various world-famous photography magazines. Ozan Sagdic, a press photographer who has also taken promotional photographs, produced original works illustrating various parts of Turkey. Gultekin Cizgen, who made extensive use of localmotifs, attracted attention with his graphic works and his photographs dealing with social subjects. Sahin Kaygun, who exhibited a rather unique approach to photography with his incessant search for originality, used fantastic, symbolic and graphic styles; exhibited his polaroid works and became the pioneer of this technique in Turkey. Atilla Torunoglu in black and white photographs, Mustafa Kapkin in studio-tricks, Halim Kulaksiz in color pictures, Reha Guney in architectural photography, Fikret Otyam in journalism and Sami Guner in tourism photography, are among the other noteworthy photo-graphers in contemporary Turkey. Ersin Alok, Semsi Guner, Sabit Kalfagil, Isa Celik, Sakir Eczacibasi, Cengiz Karliova, Ibrahim Demirel, Halim Kulaksiz, Mehmet Bayhan, Cerkes Karadag, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Ramazan Ozturk and Coskun Aral have also attracted attention and acclaim with their works.

The oldest and best-established photography organization in Turkey is IFSAK (Istanbul Photographers and Cinema Amateurs' Association). Similar associations such as AFSAD-Ankara, AFAD-Adana, Foto Forum-Trabzon, and KASK-Kocaeli also have influential activities.

The Art of Cartoon

In Turkey, the art of cartoon started in the second half of 19th century and has developed in parallel to liveliness in publication life. With the publication of the first humor magazine, Diyojen , cartoon reached an independent milieu of publication. The cartoons of the period show, generally, the characteristic of drawings that emphasize the humorous side of anecdotes and poems, and of those drawings that ornament them.

With the establishment of the Republic, Cemal Nadir Guler and Ramiz Gokce, two important artists of Turkish cartoons, contributed, with their drawings, to the efforts of establishing a new state and of creating a Republican society. In the same period, Akbaba (Vulture), the most long-lived humor magazine of the Republican period, published by Yusuf Ziya Ortac, and in which various tendencies were displayed, left its mark on the period, in view of its cadre of strong authors and cartoonists.

Along with the new freedoms due to the transition to multi-party order in the aftermath of World War II, a transformation was experienced in hu- mor. Marko Pasa, which was published by Saba- hattin Ali and Aziz Nesin and whose cartoonist was Mustafa Uykusuz, was the most important humor magazine of the period.

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Selcuk Demirel, 34X34.7, 1994

The Generation of the 1950's that brought a new concept to the art of cartoon, developed a car- toon humor not based on writing and word. This group, forming a new and contemporary aesthetics of cartoon art, analyzed the structural problems of society in depth and drew accordingly. They spread their new concept of cartoon, not only by drawing, but also by collective exhibitions, articles, seminars and by such humor magazines as 41 Bucuk (41 and a half), Tef (Tambourine), Dolmus (Taxi) and Tas-Karikatur (Stone Cartoon).

The famous cartoonists of the period are Turhan Selcuk, Nehar Tublek, Ali Ulvi Ersoy, Eflatun Nuri Koc, Selma Emiroglu, Semih Balcioglu, Bedri Koraman, Altan Erbulak, Mustafa Eremektar, Sinan Bicakcioglu, Ferruh Dogan, Tonguc Yasar, Suat Yalaz, Yalcin Cetin and Oguz Aral. Cafer Zorlu, Zeki Beyner, Tan Oral, Nezih Danyal, Ercan Akyol, Erdogan Bozok, Orhan Ozdemir and Selcuk Demirel who were brought up between 1960 and 1970, continued the cartoon concept of the Generation of the 1950's by their original contributions.

The Cartoonists' Society, which was established in 1970, contributed to the development of a generation of young cartoonists through the International Cartoon Contest of Nasred- din Hodja, collective exhibitions and catalogs. Young cartoonists gathered in the weekly humor magazine, Girgir (Fun), under the management of Oguz Aral, developed, with the contributions of Tekin Aral, a popular humor, based on words, ridiculing mainly persons and events created by distorted urbanization.

The change of values that came about in society after 1980, is being criticized and interpreted in a manner that combine word and writing with their drawings by Ismail Gulgec, Kamil Masaraci, Salih Memecan, Semih Poroy, Behic Ak, Piyale Madra, Hasan Kacan, Ergun Gunduz, Latif Demirci, Haslet Soyoz and Kemal Gokhan Gurses.

Turkish cartoon has a prominent place in world cartoon, thanks both to the international success of Turkish cartoonists and their exhibitions abroad, and to the international activities on the subject of cartoon art held in the country. The International Cartoon Contest of Nasreddin Hodja held by the Cartoonists' Society, the Hurriyet International Cartoon Contest held by Aydin Dogan Foundation, and the Ankara International Cartoon Festival held by the Cartoon Founda- tion, are some of the cartoon activities known worldwide.


The Turks produced masterpieces of architecture during the Seljuk and Ottoman periods. The monumental buildings created by Turkish architects since the eleventh century have a distinguished place in the heritage of world architecture. The Selimiye and the Suleymaniye Mosques built by Mimar (Architect) Sinan, who is the symbol of Ottoman architecture, are masterworks reflecting the degree of maturity which the Ottoman architecture had reached in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in dealing with space and mass compositions. In fact, classical Ottoman style puts forth universal leaps and values.

Mimar Sinan 1489-1588

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It is possible to see the most beautiful examples of the white colored Mediterranean architecture along the coastal regions in Turkey.

The Early Republic Period Turkish architecture which was dominated by the First National Architectural Move- ment until 1930, developed as a continuation of Ottoman architecture. Architects of this period erected public buildings to serve the needs of the major Anatolian cities in the wake of the Turkish War of Independence. These architects who seem to have borrowed certain elements of Seljuk and Ottoman architecture, and who were led by Kemaleddin Bey and Vedat Tek, assigned special importance to facades which they decorated, sometimes elaborately, with stone carvings and ceramic tiles. The public buildings, some of which are standing today, reflect the pecularities of the First National Movement. After the 1930s, foreign architects began to dominate architectural activities. They brought functional designs and an austere look to buildings. Flat roofs were preferred; the facades were bereft of ornaments; large windows were used and almost invariably, buildings were erected in a design of which simplicity and function were given top priority. Most of these foreign architects also worked as instructors and professors in schools of architecture and thus trained a new generation of architects. Meanwhile the Turkish architects of the 1930s mostly followed these imported masters.

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The Glass Pyramid Congress Center

The Second National Architectural Movement, between 1940-1950, unlike the first, focused on some of the essential elements of design utilized in the civilian buildings of traditional Turkish architecture rather than merely on ornamental elements.

The architects of this "movement" used structural elements such as eaves, wooden latticework, brackets and windows and carefully searched for a balance between the architectural ideas and elements they utilized. A meticulous workmanship in their works attracts attention. They were also careful about selecting the proper construction material to fit regional conditions. This facilitated and provided opportunities for the development of a local construction materials industry. The Macka Sark Kahvesi (Cafe) and various waterfront mansions on the Bosphorus are among the distinguished works of Sedat Hakki Eldem, one of the most important architects of the period. Emin Onat who is another noteworthy architect of this period produced works both with a regional and national perception. His Anitkabir (Ataturk's Mausoleum) project in Ankara, which he designed together with Orhan Arda, is the most important monumental masterpiece of the period.

In the early 1950s, the influence of the Second National Architectural Movement rapidly faded and the influence of Western architecture intensified. This period, which lasted until the 1960s, and during which an exploration process in education, organization, design and application was predominant, can be regarded as a period of preparation for the emergence of contemporary Turkish architecture. Since the 1960s Turkish architects have been involved in an unending exploration of concepts, scientific principles and aesthetic values in architectural design. This resulted in the emergence of a myriad of approaches and tendencies and led to a dynamic and productive pluralism in architecture. No single vision and no single movement dominates the contemporary Turkish architectural scene. While making contributions emanating from their own creative resources, and from their unique personal or stylistic tendencies, contemporary Turkish architects have tried almost every architectural approach, from the use of fantastic and/or irrational forms to expressionist approaches, from creating monumental symbols to the utilization of traditional elements and from an arabesque search to postmodernist designs.