Hale Asaf

1905Istanbul, Turkey | 1938Paris, France
Hale Asaf — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Portrait of Hale Asaf

Turkish painter.

Like most Turkish women painters of the time, Hale Asaf was born into an elite Ottoman bourgeois family, and grew up multilingual. In 1919 H. Asaf was sent to Rome to stay with her aunt, the renowned painter and painting teacher Mihri Rasim (1885-1954), from whom she took her first drawing lessons. Two years later she was accepted to the Prussian Academy of Arts in Berlin. However due to the economic struggles, she had to return to Istanbul in 1924. There she continued to study painting at İnas Sanayi-i Nefise Mektebi, the fine arts academy for women founded ten years earlier, in the studios of İbrahim Çallı (1882-1960) and Feyhaman Duran (1886-1970) – prominent painters in the impressionist style.

Granted a national scholarship to study in Europe after her graduation, she went to Munich in early 1926 to join the studio of Lovis Corinth (1858-1925). However this endeavour was cut short due to the chronic illnesses H. Asaf was to battle her whole life. In 1928 she travelled to Paris, where she became a student of André Lhote (1885-1962). His theories on painting shaped her later art. One year later she returned to Turkey and worked briefly as a painting teacher in Bursa, where she painted her Bursa landscapes. At around the same time, she became a founder and the only woman member of Müstakil Ressamlar ve Heykeltıraşlar Birliği [Independent Painters and Sculptors Union], joining many group exhibitions in Istanbul and Ankara. In 1931 H. Asaf settled in Paris with her lover, the anti-fascist Italian author Antonio Aniante, where she lived until her untimely death in 1938. This period marks her most impoverished, yet artistically most satisfying and fulfilling period, as she observed the contemporary art scene and fuelled her art through her intellectually stimulating Parisian circle. During this time, her paintings were exhibited across Europe, including in Romania, Russia, Greece and Yugoslavia.

Living, training and working in different cities and studios enabled H. Asaf to blend various styles and techniques, to create her unique style that was far from copying and to remain an independent artist. She mainly painted self-portraits and portraits of her immediate circle, landscapes of Bursa and still life paintings. Her works are generally characterised by thick, visible brushstrokes, bold colours and geometric yet balanced and naturalistic patterns. The backgrounds of portraits are divided into two planes of light and dark hues of one colour, expressively reflecting the sitter’s emotions. In both her portraits and still lifes borders are abruptly cut, compressing the space. In her still lifes this compression, together with unusual angles and light-coloured backgrounds, gives the focal object a monumental look. Her Bursa landscapes are devoid of figures – they only show traditional houses and scenery from specific places. Compared to her other paintings, the landscapes tend toward an impressionistic style with quicker brushstrokes. She generally did not name or date her works.

After H. Asaf’s death at the age of 33, the whereabouts of her paintings were unknown for a long time. Nowadays they are mostly found in private collections.

Verda Bingöl

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