Born in 1885, Mihri Rasim (Müşfik) Açba was one of the very first women painters from Istanbul. Mihri came from a very privileged background. The Açba family was from the Abkhazian aristocracy, and her father was a high-ranking physician during the reign of the sultan Abdulhamid II. Following an initial training by the Ottoman court painter Fausto Zonaro, in the early 1900s, Mihri left Istanbul for Rome then went to Paris. In Europe, she furthered her artistic development and earned a living by painting the portraits of the elite. Her first known marriage was to Müşfik Bey (İnegöllü) whom she later divorced.
In 1914, upon her return to Istanbul, at a time when women were not accepted in many European art academies, Mihri founded the first official Ottoman fine arts school for women – the İnas Sanayi-i Nefise Mektebi. She became its first woman director and instructor. She encouraged her students of the Academy to paint in plein air, and to study the human body. To do so, she provided them with the opportunity to work with nude women models. Mihri was also the one to give her niece, Hale Asaf, her first drawing lessons. Asaf later became a prominent artist in Turkey. In 1915 following the death of her friend the humanist poet and intellectual Tevfik Fikret, Mihri produced his funerary mask, considered a first in the Ottoman Empire. In 1918, she organized her solo exhibition at her Istanbul apartment that she used both as an art gallery and a studio.
A few years later, at the beginning of the 1920s, Rasim left Istanbul definitively to relocate to Italy. Then, in 1927, she migrated to the United States and lived in New York. There, she exhibited her paintings at a solo show at the Georges de Maziroff Gallery. During the course of her long career, Mihri portrayed prominent figures of the first half of the twentieth century – Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Thomas Alva Edison, Edwin Markham, Gabriele D’Annunzio, and many more.
Although she spent many productive decades in Turkey, Europe and the U.S., most of her works are currently lost. Nevertheless, some of her masterful paintings can be viewed in Istanbul’s museums. Besides her works, her private correspondence and her interviews published in the press are testimonies that allow us to retrace a strong personality and uncover details of her life that ended in 1954 in the U.S.
Visuals of the artist’s works on this page are provided from Burcu Pelvanoglu and Özlem Gülin Dağoğlu archive.
Visual of the news item about Roosevelt portrait is provided from Özlem Gülin Dağoğlu archive.
The rest is from Berna Gençalp’s archive.