Famous for his Istanbul landscapes, Hoca Ali Riza left us canvasses that are both works of art and historical documents. With his keen power of observation and his burning love of art, Hoca Ali Riza Bey was among the first Turkish painters to develop an individual style. Taking nature as the greatest teacher, he made Istanbul and especially Üsküdar his site of observation. For this reason he is generally known as the "Istanbul Artist," and as the "Üsküdar Painter." Join us now on a historical journey with the works of Hoca Ali Riza, who brought a documentary eye to bear as he immortalized the vanishing cultural beauties of Istanbul. In the process, we will be commemorating him on the 75th anniversary of his death.

Born in üsküdar in 1858, Ali Riza Bey gave evidence even as a child of his talent for painting and drawing. A major part in this was certainly played by his father"s involvement with calligraphy. Ali Riza Bey"s interest in painting began at the Üsküdar Grammar School, carried over to his years at the Kuleli Military High School, and continued while he was at the Military Academy. During this time he received instruction from such distinguished teachers as Osman Nuri Pasha, Süleyman Seyyid and Monsieur Gués. In 1884 he graduated from the Military Academy with the rank of lieutenant and was assigned to help Osman Nuri Pasha as an "Assistant Teacher of Painting." In 1911 he retired from the army with the rank of lieutenant-colonel, having served from 1909 to 1912 in such important positions as President of the Society of Ottoman Painters. A career in education and art that spanned forty-seven years saw the artist paint landscapes, still lifes and imaginary works using such media as charcoal, pastel, watercolor and oil. In the course of training countless students he was always modest, patient and tolerant, traits that earned him the title of "Hoca" among his students and friends.

With his mastery of charcoal and watercolor and his speed while working, Hoca Ali Riza managed to do some five thousand landscapes of Istanbul in his life, capturing the city"s neighborhoods, its coffeehouses, its shorelines, and the life of districts everywhere from Üsküdar and Bebek to Arnavutköy and Burgazada Island. He attached special importance to the historical in his depictions, and once said, “I find it highly agreeable to collect works that reveal the perfection of taste in the Islamic and Turkish world, considering this a calling in which I desire to specialize.” Such "works" included mosques, fountains, dervish monasteries and lodges, tombs, sebils (public fountains installed by charities), ruins, cemeteries, bridges, stately homes new and old, towers, old houses and other subjects which architecturally and historically speaking might have been considered ordinary in his day, but which he pursued with a passion. The artist also treated the life that flowed in and around such places as markets, fountains and coffeehouses, capturing such everyday cultural objects as the cups and utensils used in coffee shops, the buzz of shopping downtown and at the market, and the ubiquitous vendors in the streets. Although he kept aloof from most of his contemporaries in the art world, Hoca Ali Riza loved to depict secluded bits of nature with such friends from his days at the Military Academy as Hüseyin Zekâi Pasha and Süleyman Seyyid. He was quite renowned for the satchel he would take on landscape-painting forays, a satchel containing his art materials as well as supplies to be used in an emergency. While working he would do nothing to discourage the spectators, mainly children, who gathered round, reckoning that they too might become artists some day. He said that “The painter must make full use of his life experience. For thanks to the harmony of color and form in a flower which he holds he becomes aware of the divine power present in nature. With the felicity this pleasure gives him, of course he will have profited by his life experience.” Thus he interpreted nature mystically and when confronted by it worked in a rapture.

Spending his life in Üsküdar, that "home of painters," Hoca Ali Riza Bey captured numerous historical subjects, from a room in Hüseyin Zekâi Pasha"s stately home to the sebil of Yeni Camii (the New Mosque), and from old-fashioned shop shutters in the district of Dogancilar to the shoreline home of Kaptan-i Derya (Sea Captain) Haci Vesim Pasha in Ayazma. The artist furthermore did not neglect to write in the date and take short notes about works he considered of importance. In this respect the depictions of Üsküdar are quite numerous among his views of Istanbul having value as documents. Among his works one finds symbols through which the past may be imagined, for example narrow streets, old wooden buildings about to collapse, bay-windowed houses leaning against each other in coziness and warmth, mosques, fountains and graveyards. In all these scenes Hoca Ali Riza expresses the Ottoman-Turkish way of life, for he depicted Istanbul as a specifically Turkish city. Showing the character of various districts, his works at the same time provide clues as to the socio-economic situation and cultural life of the places he depicts. A study of the artist"s works also readily reveals architectural structures which have suffered change in our day.

On perusal of Hoca Ali Riza"s works one finds that he frequently depicts Istanbul"s shorelines, because for him the Bosporus was something very special. Hoca Ali Riza took pleasure in capturing the historically significant shoreline houses along the Bosporus, as well as their gardens, and he did many works revealing the warm relationship Kanlica, Anadoluhisari, Kandilli and their hills had with the coffeehouses and shoreline homes. The Sea of Marmara was also among the places the artist enjoyed depicting in Istanbul. In some of his works a connection is established, in terms of daily life, between the Fenerbahçe shores, the lighthouse, the ferryboats and the rowboats making their way shoreward as they carry their figures back from the sea.

Reference: Naciye Turgut - Ömer Faruk Serifoglu , Skylife

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