The painting called the Tortoise Trainer by Osman Hamdi Bey broke all previous records for oriental art when it was sold for 3.5 million dollars in 2004. The original is in the Pera Museum in Istanbul (well worth a visit) but we are more concerned with the painter – Osman Hamdi Bey.

He was born in 1842, the eldest son of Ibrahim Edhem Paşa and Fatma Hanım. Ibrahim had been one of four young men sent to Europe for their education by the Ottoman state, so Osman was raised in a household imbued with both Ottoman and Turkish culture.

He began his education in Istanbul and eventually, after attending law school, went to Paris in 1857.

Whilst he was officially there to study law, his interest in painting also led to him attending the School of Fine Arts.

The Tortoise Trainer

When he was still a student in Paris he married and had two daughters. When divorce came, after ten years, he kept one daughter, Fatma whilst the other, Hayriye stayed in France with her mother but was to die aged only 16.

Osman Hamdi Bey returned to Turkey in 1869 and remarried. He had four more children with this second wife Naile.

On his return in 1869 he was appointed Director of Foreign Affairs for the province of Baghdad. In 1871 he became Director of Foreign Protocol for the court in Istanbul.

In 1881 he was made Director of the Imperial Museum which eventually led to the foundation of the Archaeological Museum in 1903.

To enrich that Museum he took up archaeology and was involved at digs in Ayvalık, Bergama and Nemrut Dağ during 1883 – 1895.

He also founded the Istanbul School of Fine Arts in 1883, which still exists as part of Mimar Sinan University.

He was the first Turk to paint human figures, including females. In 1909 Oxford University gave him an honorary doctorate.

He died in 1910 having left a vital legacy in Turkey, where he introduced the concept of a ‘museum’ and ensured his ideas became reality.

The drawing shown at the start of this article is a self portrait he drew in old age.