Fikret Mualla (1903-1967)
A Turkish painter who produced enthusiastically lyrical and sincere works uniting the stylistic features of Expressionism and Fauvism.
Fikret Mualla Saygı was born in Istanbul and died in Nice, France on July 20, 1967. He was lame as the result of a childhood accident. That and his father’s subsequent remarriage following the death of his mother contributed to his difficult and maladjusted character as a child. Following education at Saint Joseph, a school of French origin, he attended Galatasaray High School for a certain period, but was sent to Germany to study engineering even before graduating. He travelled around Germany, went to Switzerland and Italy and visited museums in those countries. Once he realised his artistic ability, Mualla gained a sound knowledge of design within a short period of time. He made successful paintings, fashion drawings and engravings. His designs were accepted by the most famous German magazines. When his father began to experience financial difficulties and was unable to send him money any more, he stayed in Germany until the age of twenty-five, supported by an Egyptian prince.
Mualla was treated for alcohol problems in a hospital for a short period in 1929. Later on, he moved from Germany to France, living in artistic areas of Paris, such as Montparnasse and Saint Germain. He met Hale Asaf at the Andre Lhote studio. After painting in Paris, Mualla returned to Turkey due to financial difficulties. In order to secure an income he applied to the Ministry of Education and was appointed as a painting teacher at the Ayvalık Secondary School in 1934. However, he resigned from the post shortly afterwards. He designed costumes for operettas, such as Lüküs Hayat, Deli Dolu and Saz Caz, and illustrated the book of verse Varan 3 by Nazım Hikmet. He prepared designs for the journal Yeni Adam published by İsmail Hakkı Baltacıoğlu. For a year in 1936, he was placed into care at the Bakırköy Mental Hospital on the order of th public prosecutor due to some statements he had made, which were misinterpreted. He was discharged from the hospital towards the end of 1937. Following that experience, Fikret Mualla had an increasing phobia regarding the police that continued until his death.
Believing that he could survive in Paris with his share of a legacy from his father, he left Turkey in 1939. During the two years between his discharge from hospital and the time he left Turkey, he painted approximately 30 pictures of Istanbul for the 1939 International New York Fair Turkish pavilion at the request of Abidin Dino. A lawsuit was filed against him after he left Turkey, on the grounds that one of the designs he drew for Ses magazine published in 1938 was obscene, but he was acquitted in 1939. He published two short stories, “Masal” and “Üsera Karargahı,” in Ses magazine during that period.
Fikret Mualla lived in France for over 26 years. Due to long years of financial difficulties, excessive addiction to alcohol, and his continual police phobia, he experienced increasing instability. He was again hospitalized for treatment. Throughout this two-month stay in hospital he was under the protection of Dina Vierny, for whom he produced paintings. With those he held his first exhibition in November 1954. He was hospitalized at a mental institution subsequent to his second exhibition. When he was discharged one month later, he made an agreement with an industrialist called Lharmin and moved to the ‘Rive Droite’ of the River Seine, where wealthier people lived. During this period, he met Madame Anglés, who was a regular buyer of his paintings. Subsequently, Madame Anglés took Fikret Mualla under her protection and put him in a hospital when he had a stroke in 1962 and took care of him. Then, she settled him in her house located in the Reillane region of Nice and covered all his expenses. Mualla remained paralyzed until the end of his life. His nervous depressions started again in May 1967. He was first placed in a hospital and then in a care home where he would stay until his death. He was buried in a paupers’ cemetery, just like the painter Hale Asaf. At the initiative of President Fahri Korutürk, his body was brought back to Turkey and buried in the Karacaahmet Cemetery in 1974, seven years after his death. In 1976 an exhibition was organized in Ankara in his name with 118 paintings donated by friends, relatives and various collections. Today most of his works are in private collections.
Having lived most of his life in France, Fikret Mualla selected his themes from among the details of Paris life, such as cafes, circuses and the streets. For him painting was a way of life. He sincerely translated the facts of life into colours and form and painted the members of the Bohemian circle in which he lived. He mostly used gouache technique and worked very fast with it. However, he was as professional and skilled with oils as he was with watercolour and gouache. Theoretical painting problems were not a particularly significant consideration for him. He was untouched by external influences and did not join in contemporary trends. He painted in the way he felt, subjectively and full of enthusiastic lyricism.
Works (main): Painting: Oturan Adamlar (Sitting Men), 1937, Istanbul Museum of Paintings and Sculptures; Sevişenler (People Making Love), 1952; Masada (At the Table),1953; Nature-Morte, 1954; Sokak (Street), 1955; Sermayeler (Working Girls), 1955; Kafe (Café), 1955, Bistro; Kanalda Bekleyen Taşıt Botları (Passenger Boats Waiting at the Canal); Marsilya’da Fransız İşçileri bir Kahvede (French Workers at a Café in Marseille); Haliç ve Süleymaniye (The Golden Horn and Süleymaniye Mosque); Paris’te bir Sokak (A Street in Paris); Amerikan Bar (American Bar); Baloncu (Balloon-Seller); Peysaj (Landscape); Balıkçı (Fisherman); Mor Zemin Üstünde Figürler (Figures on Purple Background); Illustration: Nazım Hikmet, Varan 3, 1930. Theatre Costumes: Lüküs Hayat, Deli Dolu, Saz Caz.