154-year-old Orientalist painting under restoration

|      Zeynep Cermen      |

ISTANBUL (Xinhua) – In the middle of a wasteland were 13 men dismounted from their horses, standing by a wounded gazelle, while several hounds were idling around.

It is a hunting scene in an Egyptian desert depicted on a giant oil painting by the French painter Felix-Auguste Clement in 1865, who was known for his Orientalist works.

One of the characters at the centre of the oil painting, the young Abdulhalim Pasha who was taking a break after the hunt, is eye-catching in particular over his local outfits.

Historians claim that the Pasha ordered Clement to describe a hunting scene over a 35-square-metre-wide canvas for it to be the new decoration of his palace in the Choubra district of Cairo in Egypt, then a province of the Ottoman Empire.

The French painter named his art piece as The gazelle hunt of Prince Halim in the Gatah desert: the share of the hound dog.

Staff repair the Orientalist painting in the Painting Museum in Istanbul, Turkey. – XINHUA

The Pasha was a well-known figure in Egyptian society, as he was tapped to be the new khedive, but his wish did not come true due to changes in the probate law.

Instead, he came to Istanbul later and purchased a mansion for his son Sait Halim Pasha along the Bosphorus Strait.

“And toward the end of the 1870s, the painting was brought to Istanbul, most probably by camels, to be displayed in the mansion named after his son Sait Halim Pasha,” said Director of the Painting Museum in Istanbul Gulsen Kaya.

The art piece, known as the largest Orientalist painting in Turkey, had been on display in the mansion in the Sariyer district for almost 140 years until the Presidency of National Palaces Administration added it lately into its collections and started an all-out restoration.

It was a challenge to transfer the huge painting through narrow doors and gates to its new home at the Painting Museum within the Dolmabahce Palace compound in the city’s Besiktas district, a must-see for both foreign and local visitors.

Following months of preparations including detailed calculations, the oil painting started its journey again on an articulated lorry.

Its restoration and conservation process is expected to be completed in five to six months.

Three experts have been working simultaneously on a cage, trying to remove the final pieces of the protection layer as they started the repairing process on the other side.

“We are also cleaning the piece from all the dust and dirt while fixing the damages, cracks and holes,” said Hatice Biga, a painting conservator with the Presidency of National Palaces Administration.

According to Biga, the restoration process in Turkey is in line with world standards, as the country has notable painting collections in its museums and palaces.

Clement’s painting will be on display at a grand hall devoted to the Orientalist painters when the renovation is over.

“The collections at our museum consist of the pieces by Western painters who went to the East and lived there, recognised local people and their daily lives mostly in the territories to the east of the Ottoman Empire,” said Biga.