Hitchcock, that unforgettable director of horror films, always appeared in
one scene of his films. This brief glimpse was his unique signature. In
1899, the year that Hitchcock was born, a Turkish artist portrayed himself
among the figures in one of his paintings. This painting depicting the
entry of Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror into Istanbul through Topkapi Gate in
1453 is familiar to many people in Turkey from reproductions in history
books. Beside the grey horse on which the sultan is mounted walks a
janissary holding a long- barrelled gun. This janissary is the artist Hasan
Rıza (1857-1912), a colourful personality known for his wit and
humour. It was quite in character for him to introduce a private joke of
this kind into an otherwise serious painting.
Hasan Rıza was born in Üsküdar (Scutari), a district of Istanbul on
the Asian shore of the Bosphorus. In his memoirs he relates that his
passion for art began as a child, when he annoyed his parents by drawing
pictures with a lump of charcoal on the wall of the house. Two wars were
to play a crucial part in his life. The Ottoman- Russian War of 1877-1878
opened new doors for him, while the Balkan War closed them for ever.
During his final year at the Naval College on the island of Heybeliada,
Hasan Rıza volunteered for service in the Ottoman-Russian War, and was
sent as a private to join a regiment on the Russian frontier. There he was
assigned as guard to an Italian journalist who was both reporting on the
war and making masterful drawings of the battle scenes he witnessed that
greatly impressed the young soldier. One day Hasan Rıza drew a charcoal
portrait of the elderly journalist and showed it to him.
The journalist was surprised at this skill displayed by an ordinary
soldier, and a friendship grew up between them. When the war ended and
Hasan Rıza returned to the naval college, he frequently visited the
Italian journalist, who was also living on Heybeliada, and under his
fried'sd guidance improved his drawing skills. That same year Hasan Rıza
was appointed to restore the paintings and decoration in the cabins of
Sultan Abdülhamid's yacht, and performed the task so well that the
minister of naval affairs made him an officer before he had even graduated.
But Hasan Rıza was already determined to become an artist, and with the
encouragement of the Italian journalist went to Italy as soon as he left
college. For the next ten years he studied in the studios of various
artists in Naples, Rome and Florence, and then travelled to Egypt, where
he studied Egyptian art for two years.
After returning to Turkey he opened a studio in Karaagaç, a small town
near Edirne, where he painted many portraits of famous people and a series
of paintings depicting the foremost events and battles of Ottoman history.
In the quiet atmosphere of Karaagaç he was able to devote himself to his
work, and his output was prolific. Unfortunately, very few of his
historical paintings have survived. Among the few in existence today are
paintings of the Siege of Vienna and the Battle of Belgrade in the
Military Museum, 'The Transportation of the Conqueror's Ships Overland
before the Siege of Istanbul' and 'The Conqueror Marching with His Army
from Edirne to Istanbul' in the Naval Museum, and the Siege of Eger and
the Battle of Mohacs in Ankara Officers Club.
From his paintings it is clear that Hasan Rıza had an extensive
knowledge of history, and his figures display a masterful grasp of anatomy.
His sense of composition is evident in even the most confused battle
scenes, which he depicted with realism. He worked in charcoal, Indian ink,
pastel and oils. During his years in Edirne Hasan Rıza also served as
headmaster of the city's art college, and trained many young people as
artists. With the outbreak of the Balkan War, Hasan Rıza was put in
charge of Edirne Hospital. When news was received that the Bulgarian army
had entered the city, he set out for Karaagaç to rescue his paintings,
but was killed on the way. Many of the paintings in his studio were
destroyed or looted, some being taken to Sofia, and others turning up
years later in Vienna Museum.
Those that remained were eventually brought back to Istanbul. As well
as the six already mentioned, some can be seen in the Museum of Fine Arts
in Istanbul, and a few are in private collections.