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April 21, 2009, Tuesday

‘The Tortoise Trainer’

Sabancı University's Sakıp Sabancı Museum (SSM) is hosting an exhibition titled "Travel to the West: 70 Years of Turkish Painting 1860-1930" between April 16 and June 30, with the support of Yüksel İnşaat A.Ş.The exhibition puts a close eye on the rich history of Turkish painting by displaying the works of artists born in the 19th century, such as Osman Hamdi Bey, İbrahim Çallı, Feyhaman Duran and Namık İsmail.

Curated by Ferit Edgü, this exhibition -- in which the Turkish art of painting in the Western sense is being interpreted anew -- was made possible through the effort of Sabancı Holding Board of Directors President Güler Sabancı and SSM Director Nazan Ölçer, as well as Deniz Sazak, Yüksel İnşaat A.Ş.'s human resources and corporate communications coordinator. Everyone who contributed to the exhibition should be congratulated.

The works of 15 of our great artists, including such painters of military origin as Şeker Ahmet Paşa and Halil Paşa, who used new approaches in the art, are represented by 150 works selected from the collections of the Atatürk Museum at the Çankaya presidential compound of the Republic of Turkey, the Ankara Museum of Painting and Sculpture, the Dolmabahçe Palace Museum, Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University's (MSGSÜ) İstanbul Museum of Painting and Sculpture, the SSM collections and private collections.

The great surprise of this exhibition is the second version -- dated 1907 -- of Osman Hamdi Bey's renowned work "The Tortoise Trainer," which comes from the private collection of Belma Simavi and is being shown for the first time in this exhibition. The Simavi family procured the picture at an auction in London in 1986. It belonged to a Turkish family of Levantine origin living in İstanbul. The picture from the Simavi collection contains six tortoises, while its first version, dated 1906 and hosted in the Suna ve İnan Kıraç Foundation Pera Museum, has five. Moreover, the version from the Simavi collection shows a picture on the wall and an earthenware jug of water near the window. Simavi's version is small (136 centimeters by 87 centimeters) and is about one-third the size of the original (222 centimeters by 122 centimeters). It also contains a dedication to Ahmet Muhtar Paşa in Osman Hamdi Bey's own handwriting.

The 1906 version had previously belonged to Erol Aksoy. It was auctioned by the Savings Deposit Insurance Fund (TMSF). This auction was held in 2004 and the competition between the İstanbul Modern and the Pera Museum raised its price. The initial bid was announced as TL 1.95 million, but it ended up being sold at the highest price paid for any Turkish painting: TL 5 million. This then led to an increase in value of the relatively small number of Osman Hamdi Bey's other works.

Experts see it as natural for "The Tortoise Trainer" to have a twin. When the two pictures are placed side by side, they are very similar to one another. The man in the picture is Osman Hamdi Bey. The difference between the two pictures is proof that they were produced on different dates. But neither is fake -- both were signed by Osman Hamdi. The famous painter painted the first version in 1906 and duplicated it in 1907.

This is a common practice among painters. For instance, Claude Monet painted the "Woman with a Parasol" four or five times, and none of them is fake. As for the Turkish painting, there are eight or 10 reduplications of Süleyman Seyid's "Soyulmuş Portakal" (Peeled Orange). This also applies to works by Şefik Bursalı. Of modern Turkish painters, Duran Karaca's "Eşekli Çukurovalı Köylü Kadını" (A Village Women from Çukurova with a Donkey) and Yaşar Çallı's "Güvercinler" (Doves) were repainted in different sizes several times.

Painters are entitled to repaint their work as many times as they wish and no one can question this. They may even change small details from the original version. Painters may draw the same scene with small changes upon order or out of their attachment to the topic or for convenience. Sometimes they experiment for perfection. Perhaps, this is the production of labor. Yet, having multiple copies would not devalue their work. One copy is not more precious than the other.

My father used to say, "The Turkish bourgeoisie has understood that walls should not be left blank, but they still do not know what to hang on them." Indeed, instead of buying the original works of Turkish painters, which can be considered as considerably inexpensive compared to what is available in the world market -- ranging generally between $2,000 and $100,000 -- they prefer to hang reproductions on their walls. The upper and middle-upper income groups in Turkey have still not realized that original works of art are not only tastes but also investment tools that yield high returns in the long term just like land. And so this exhibition gives us hope for the future.

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