Osman Hamdi Bey, [Constantinople 1842-1910], Ottoman statesman, painter and art expert who put forth legislation aimed at regulating finds made by various archaeological enterprises in the Ottoman Empire and preventing the antiquities from being smuggled abroad.
As a painter, he became famous while he was alive. He worked on compositions with figures and portraits, and he was the first Turkish artist who painted figures. In his paintings, there are many architectural and decorative details. He frequently appears as the main character; he used photos taken of him in different outfits and poses for his drawings. Today, many domestic and foreign museum collections include his paintings as well.
The Tortoise Trainer - Pera Museum, İstanbul
His painting "The Tortoise Trainer" 1906, broke a record in Turkey by being sold for the amount of 3.5 million dollars in December 2004. The painting expresses a sarcastic innuendo on the painter's own view of his style of work compared to those of his collaborators and apprentices, and is also a reference to the historical fact of tortoises having been employed for illuminative and decorative purposes, by placing candles on the shell, in evening outings during the Tulip Era in the early 18th century. The painting was acquired by the Suna and İnan Kıraç Foundation and is currently on display at the Pera Museum in İstanbul, which was established by this foundation.
Osman Hamdi Bey was also an accomplished archaeologist, and is considered as the pioneer of the museum curator's profession in Turkey. He was the founder of Istanbul Archaeology Museums and of İstanbul Academy of Fine Arts (Sanayi-i Nefise Mektebi in Turkish), known today as the Mimar Sinan University of Fine Arts. French orientalist painters Jean-Léon Gérôme and Gustave Boulanger were his teachers, whose influence is apparent in most of the paintings Osman Hamdi done.
Osman Hamdi Bey founded the Archaeological Museum of Istanbul and became its director in 1881. His taste and energy did much to establish the reputation of the museum and its impressive collection of Greco-Roman antiquities. Included among the treasures that he secured for the museum are the famous Greek sarcophagi found in the royal necropolis at Sidon (now in Lebanon) in 1887. These are outstanding examples of Greek art of the 5th and 4th centuries bce and are perfectly preserved. The magnificent “Alexander” sarcophagus (so named because it was originally believed to be that of Alexander the Great) even retains traces of its original colouring. Hamdi Bey’s account of the excavation, Une Nécropole royale à Sidon (A Royal Necropolis at Sidon), cowritten by Théodore Reinach, was published in 1892.