One of the very first female painters from Istanbul is Mihri Rasim Müşfik Açba (1886–1954). She was ethnically an Abkhazian. As her father was the Minister of Health during the reign of Abdulhamid II and her aunt was one of Sultan’s wives, she was raised in a privileged environment, and was given lessons by the court painter, Fausto Zonaro. In the early 1900’s, she left Istanbul and went first to Rome and then to Paris, where she probably attended workshops for further education and earned a living painting portraits of the elite. Her first known marriage was to Müşfik Bey (İnegöllü) who she later divorced. In 1914, after her return to Istanbul, at a time when women were not even officially accepted as students in many European academies, she helped co-found the Fine Arts School for Women. Mihri became the first female director and teacher of this Istanbul Ottoman State School.
She consistently promoted female students becoming able for the first time to paint in the streets and the open air. With Mihri’s efforts, they were even able to study nude models. She was the first to encourage her female students to organize a collective exhibition. She also gave her sister Enise Hanım’s talented daughter Hale Asaf, her first drawing lessons, who later became a very important painter but unfortunately died at an early age. She was also the first in the country to cast a death mask, that of her close friend, humanist poet and intellectual Tevfik Fikret, just after his death. Her apartment flat in Istanbul’s Bomonti was also her gallery and studio. Mihri was also the first native painter to paint the portrait of Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkish Republic, and the first Muslim and female painter to paint a portrait of a Pope (Pope Benedict XV).
Unable to settle in Istanbul during 1920’s, she moved again to Rome, then to New York. In 1928, her paintings were exhibited at Maziroff Gallery in New York. Though she spent many productive years of her artistic life in Europe and in USA, her works in those countries are mostly lost. In addition to her masterful paintings that are left in Istanbul, we have some of her private letters and newspaper interviews which reflect her strong personality and reveal some details from her life. Mihri died in 1954, in USA.
Visuals of the artist’s works on this page are provided from Burcu Pelvanoglu archive.
Visual of the news item about Roosevelt portrait is provided from Özlem Gülin Dağoğlu archive. The rest is from Berna Gençalp’s archive.