The Interesting Story of an Exhibition Paintings of War in Vienna and Others


At the end of June 1915, the Ottoman Empire’s Military Intelligence Headquarters had sent an official communication to approximately thirty writers, poets, composers and painters requesting them to illustrate the horrific war taking place at the Çanakkale strait with their pencils, brushes and musical notes. Those artists who accepted this invitation and who turned up at the Sirkeci Station on Sunday July 11, 1915 with ‘embroideries of double bay leaves on the left arms of their khaki cotton outfits’ were as follows:

Müfit Ratip, Ağaoğlu Ahmet, Ali Canip Yöntem, Enis Behiç Koryürek, Hakkı Süha Gezgin, Hamdullah Suphi Tanrıöver, Hıfzı Tevfik Gönensay, Mehmet Emin Yurdakul, Muhiddin from the Tanin Newspaper, Orhan Seyfi Orhon, Ömer Seyfeddin, Celâl Sahir, Yusuf Razi, İbrahim Alâeddin Gövsa, Çallı İbrahim, Nazmi Ziya Güran and Ahmed Yekta Madran.

However, many powerful poets and writers such as Abdülhak Hamid, Sami Paşazade Sezai, Cenap Şahabettin, Süleyman Nazif, Tevfik Fikret, Halit Ziya and Mehmet Akif could not be seen at the Sirkeci Station: this had caused a deep disappointment within the Council. However, the train would soon set off towards Çanakkale and the journey would begin.

The Literary commıttee at the Sirkeci Station

The journey which began on the morning of July 11, 1915 at the Sirkeci Station, ended on a Thursday night on July 21, 1915 and the committee consisting of poets, writers, painters and composers had tried to make sense of the war on the shores of Keşan, Bolayır, Gallipoli and Ariburnu. Unfortunately, the Council consisting of thirty persons was not able to present a remarkable piece of work. It was only Hamdullah Suphi, known for his talent of elocution, who would later print a series of his observations at the İkdam Newspaper and collect these writings in a book titled ‘Günebakan’. Hamdullah Suphi explains the reason why they set off to Çanakkale from the Sirkeci Station as follows:

“On the morning of June 28, we were leaving Sirkeci. Just fifteen minutes before our departure, a team from the Red Crescent had left. The convoy of artists from the fields of art, music and literature was heading out with the intention of expressing their respects and love for the soldiers defending Çanakkale and herald their gratitude and blessing to that grisly and old Turkish sword, shining like a crimson dawn on the hills of Çanakkale.”

According to the other members of the Literary Committee, Hamdullah Suphi explains his observations in great detail. The Committee, visits Bolayır, and then the graves of the conqueror of Rumeli, Süleyman Pasha and Namik Kemal, during the heat of July, then passes through Gallipoli and reaches the 5th Army Quarters. The Committee, which visits the battlefields of Arıburnu and Seddülbahir, would then head towards Gallipoli on the morning of July 13.

According to Ali Canip Yöntem, who was also amongst the group, ‘two things were seriously disturbing those at the frontline: The smell and flies!’ Ali Canip, who also states that looking from the trenches through binoculars, it all looked like ‘a field of corpses’ continues by stating, ‘The bullets were whizzing pass our heads and exploding like a thunder.’

Amongst the members of the committee, there was also one particular name who had become up-close and personal with the true facet of the battle and who in fact was also captured as a prisoner of war at the battlefield during the Balkan Wars. Ömer Seyfettin, one of the greatest names of Turkish short story, was used to those ‘bullets that were whizzing past their heads’ and did not care much for it. According to Hakkı Süha Gezgin, despite the dangerous environment, Ömer Seyfettin was actually entertaining them:

‘While leading at the front on horseback and under all the bullets fires, Ömer was blaming and cursing me saying, ‘You idiot! I hope you get shot so that you’re parents see a martyr!’, while pulling at the manes of the animals with all his force. Three minutes later we were in safety. For those who were interpelling us in regards to the danger we experienced, he turned around and said, ‘So that was it dear. Fifteen thousand bullets were whizzing from under my arms’. Then he accusingly was pointing a finger my way and threatening: ‘If I don’t make it, he is to blame. Oh why didn’t I insure myself!’

The 1914 Generation at Arıburnu and Seddülbahir

Although there were many poets and writers within the Literary Committee who had been strolling the Çanakkale trenches for twelve days, there were only two well-known painters and they were ‘the crucial representatives of the 1914 Generation’: Nazmi Ziya Güran and Çallı Ibrahim! These two artists were amongst this group for the purposes of illustrating their observations of the Çanakkale trenches with their paintbrushes.

Both Ibrahim Çallı and Nazmi Ziya had gone to France, Germany and Italy in 1910 for their art education, but had to return back in 1914 due to World War I. After 1914, the artists, who were referred to as the ‘Çallı Generation’ or ‘The 1914 Generation’, became famous with their ‘Galatasaray Exhibitions’. The difference between the ‘1914 Generation’ and those before them was that they merged their emotions and interpretations into the paintings instead of copying nature as it was.

Upon the return of the 1914 Generation from Paris, both had taught as art teachers in various schools for the purposes of putting their knowledge of art into good use. However, with the initiative of Celal Esad Arseven, a wooden shed had been set up in Şişli and the Çallı Generation have realized their initial compositions there.

Ibrahim Çallı and Nazmi Ziya, who were both amongst the Literary Committee, attained various impressions by seeing the battlefields of Arıburnu and Seddülbahir. Nazmi Ziya would then go on to illustrate what he observed in four separate paintings.

The Story of an Exhibition

Towards the end of World War I, in other words, in 1917, upon the order of the Deputy of the Commander-in-Chief and War Minister, Enver Pasha, ‘The Ministry of War Workshop’ was established in an old estate in Şişli. Many works of art were undertaken at The Şişli Workshop, which had been established with the initiative of Celal Esad Arseven for the purpose of illustrating the success of the Turks in culture and art, and these works were to be exhibited in Vienna, Berlin and some European cities.

Those who were affiliated with the Şişli Workshop, which has been established with the permission of the Deputy Commander-in-Chief and Minister of War Enver Pasha with ‘the condition of also including paintings with military themes’, included: Ibrahim Çallı, Ömer Adil, Ali Cemal Ben’im, Ali Sami Boyar, Cevat Bey, Feyhaman Duran, Hikmet Onat, Hüseyin Avni, Ismail Hakki Bey, Mehmet Ali Laga, Mahmut Bey, Namık Ismail, Mehmet Ruhi Bey, Mehmet Sami Yetik, Şevki Dağ and Tahsin of Diyarbakır.

Ali Cemal, who had also been amongst those sent to the battlefield for the purpose of getting a feel of the war zone, had reflected the dramatic aspects of the Balkan War while Sami Yetik and the others had swayed towards more realistic themes of war and soldiers. Models of soldiers, horses, gun carriages and artillery were sent to the Şişli Workshop (Ministry of War Workshop), while there were orders submitted for art supplies from Germany, ensuring that all opportunities were made available for the artists.

The artists having spent a great deal of effort on their paintings reflecting the Çanakkale War, had their works of art exhibited at the end of 1917 at the Galatasaray Hall under the title of “Paintings of War and Others”.

143 paintings, which were painted at the Şişli Workshop, were taken to Vienna by the curator Celal Esad Arseven and his assistant Namık Ismail. This exhibition which drew much attention and was praised in both the European and Ottoman media, were then taken to Berlin. However, due to the unexpected turn of events of the war, the exhibition in Berlin was to be cancelled.

‘The Cannon Battery’, ‘Wounded Soldier’, ‘The Night Raid at the Trenches’, ‘Morning at the Trenches’, ‘Before the Tent’ and ‘The Military Officer’ paintings, which had been undertaken at the Şişli Workshop and exhibited in Vienna, had a special importance compared with the others:

Çallı Ibrahim, who travelled the trenches of Çanakkale and was amongst the members of the committee, had painted these drawings in such a short period of time at the Şişli Workshop and had them exhibited in Vienna. Whereas his friend Nazmi Ziya, who had also visited the trenches of Çanakkale, did not join the Şişli Workshop and would not submit a painting for unknown reasons.

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