Mihri Rasim

1885Istanbul, Turkey | 1954New York, United Sates
Mihri Rasim — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Portrait of Mihri Rasim

Turkish painter.

Mainly known for her portraits, Mihri Rasim, also referred to as Mihri Hanım and Mihri Müşfik (her husband’s surname), was one of the first women artists of the late Ottoman Empire. Born into an upper-class Ottoman family, she began painting at a young age, by the court painter Fausto Zonaro (1854-1929). Travelling to Rome and then Paris in the early 1900s, Mihri attended several painting studios and earned her living as a portrait painter. When she returned to Istanbul in 1914, she instigated the establishment of the first school of art accepting women in the Ottoman Empire, Women’s Fine Arts Academy. At the age of 29, Mihri became the first female director of the academy and one of the painting tutors. Against all bureaucratic constraints, she encouraged her students, including Nazlı Ecevit (1900-1985) Müzdan Arel (1897-1986), Fahrelnissa Zeid (1901-1991) and Güzin Duran (1898-1981) to experiment en plein air and to paint from live models.

Mihri developed close friendships with many artists, politicians and scientists of her time. Some of her friends were also the subject of her portraits and other works. As far as we know, in 1915, she made the first death mask in the Ottoman Empire, following the death of her long-time friend, the poet Tevfik Fikret. Returning to Europe in 1922, Mihri first settled in Rome and spent a little time in London, Madrid and Vienna, before she permanently moved to New York in 1927; a year later her first solo exhibition opened, at Maziroff Gallery. During her time in the United States, she earned her living as a painting tutor. From 1933 onwards, she also became involved in the League of Women Voters and gave public lectures on women’s rights in America and later in the newly established Turkish republic.

Mihri’s portraits depicted historically important figures such as Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the first president of the Republic of Turkey; Franklin D. Roosevelt, the 32nd President of the United States and the poet Edwin Markham as well as the socialites in her Istanbul and New York circles. Using both live models and photography, Mihri demonstrated her profound knowledge of drawing and anatomy in her portraiture. Her original style that abstracts and isolates the figure from space, often makes her female portraits appear in a mysterious atmosphere, such as in her self-portrait Sevgili Vecih’ciğime İstanbul Hatırası [To My Dear Vecih, Istanbul Memory, 1920]. She made several self-portraits, which have been considered to be a revelation of her versatile character and identity as an émigré woman artist. However, though some of her paintings are held in collections such as Istanbul State Art and Sculpture Museum and the Cornell Fine Arts Museum, not many of Mihri’s paintings have survived her death in 1954.

Nergis Abıyeva

A notice produced as part of the TEAM international academic network: Teaching, E-learning, Agency and Mentoring

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