“Goupil & Cie” and The Ottoman Empire in The 1870s

  • July 19, 2012

The Dolmabahce and Beylerbeyi Palaces, built in 1856 and 1865 respectively, together with other national pavillions, all today administered by the “Turkish Grand National Assembly- Department of National Palaces”, express the determination of the last great Islamic power, the Ottoman Empire, to modernise itself and survive. They represent a reflection of the modernising efforts of Sultan Abdül Mejid I and Sultan Abdülaziz, not only in the administrative system, but also in the cultural domain. During the second half of the 19th century, Istanbul acquired new decorative arts from Europe,such as the baroque, roccoco and neo-classical styles,which were blended with traditional Turkish carpets, carpentry, fabrics,and metalwork. This is also the period when European painting collections were first introduced to the royal palaces, embellishing its walls.

The second half of the 19th century was also a period of social well-being, with the residents of Istanbul undergoing a great change, the Galata district growing, and the residential areas extending into the Beyoğlu, Beşiktaş,and Yıldız areas. Foreign trade was liberalised and goods of European origin entered the cultural and commercial centres of Istanbul. These transformations signified that bridges of understanding and peace between the West and the Ottoman administration and public were being built.

It was during this period of westernisation that we witness the growth of “Goupil & Cie”, a leading art dealership in 19th century France, with its headquarters in Paris. In the 1850s, after a restructuring of the company with new partners, Goupil steadily established a worldwide trade, initially with fine art reproductions of paintings and sculptures, and later with the sale of original works, through a network of branches in London, Brussels, The Hague, Berlin and Vienna, as well as in New York and Australia.[i]

When Ahmed Ali Pasha[ii], who was sent to Paris by Sultan Abdülaziz to undergo training in the studios of the French master-painters, Gustave Boulanger and Jean-Léon Gérome, was appointed to the court as Sultan Abdülaziz’s aide-de-camp, he got in contact with Adolphe Goupil, the father-in-law of Gérome, whom he had befriended in Paris, and, by availing himself of his teacher Gérome’s recommendations, he acquired many paintings for the Palace. When the Goupil & Cie. stock books, which are available for researchers and are today owned by the Getty Research Institute[iii], are checked against Palace archives, it can be seen that thirty-three works of art were bought. However, with some of the works in Goupil stock books being sold under anonymous names, the destruction of documents and paintings from the Çırağan Palace in 1909, and the presence of other works in similar styles and periods today found in the Presidential Palace, the National Palaces, and the Mimar Sinan Painting and Sculpture Museum, it suggests that the total number of works well exceed thirty-three. Despite the “Goupil & Cie” label being on the back of most of the paintings obtained from Goupil, today,there is no longer any trace of it on some of the works.

In the 1870s, when Orientalist subjects were becoming widespread, it is evident that Oriental compositions which “Goupil & Cie” put on the market were being sold primarily in Europe and America. While Goupil put on sale orientalist themes by artists such as Germain-Fabius Brést, Auguste-Ange Bellet, François Flameng, Henri Duvieux, Alberto Pasini, Felix Ziem, and Henri Guérard, virtually all of the works acquired by the Palace and those connected to it, represented depictions of European landscapes of the Barbizon school, neo-Greek or allegorical, and not orientalist subjects.

If we turn to the orientalist-themed paintings which entered the Palace around the same period and at later period, we see that this is directly due to such names as Stanislas von Chlebowski, Alberto Pasini, Ivan K. Aivazovsky, Piérre Desiré Guillemet, François Prier-Bardin, Joseph Warnia Zarzecki, and Salvatore Valeri, who lived in Istanbul and had an association with the Palace. All of these artists, especially Luigi Acquarone and Fausto Zonaro, who were appointed to the position of court painter by Sultan Abdül Hamid II, created many orientalist works for the Palace by fulfilling orders to put onto canvas typical Turkish scenes of Istanbul and the Bosphorus.

“Les Bulles de Savons”, the first painting of Italian origin to be acquired from Goupil in 1873, was the work of an anonymous artist depicting a flock of goats, and this is today part of the palace collection. The painting entitled “Place de la Concorde”, which was one of the masterpieces by the renowned Italian artist, Giuseppe De Nittis, was bought on 23rd July 1875 and transferred from the Dolmabahçe Palace to the Presidential Palace in 1932[iv]. De Nittis during his seventeen years tenure in Paris, from the 1870’s upto the early 1880’s, focussed his studies on the central points of metropolises such as Paris and London pioneering the evolution of cityscape imagery in the 19th century. His masterpiece “Place de la Concorde” can be counted as his most dominant achievements, in this respect. Vincent van Gogh, while he was working in Goupil & Cie’s Paris branch at 9 Rue Chantal, wrote in a letter, dated 24th June 1875, to his brother, Théo, about De Nittis’ “cityscape” themed work entitled “Victoria Embankment”, saying that when he saw the painting, which took Westminster Bridge and the Houses of Parliament as its subject, it reminded him of how much he loved London[v]. Another Italian work acquired from “Goupil & Cie”s in 1876 was from the hand of Anatolio Scifoni (1842-1884) and entitled “Tepidarium Pompéien” (Pompeian Bath).

A section of the works that were obtained for the Dolmabahçe Palace during the reign of Sultan Abdülaziz with the recommendation of Şeker Ahmet Pasha Ahmet Ali Pasha were transferred to the Presidential Palace in 1929 and 1932[vi] and later years in order to decorate the walls of its residential quarters. Among the works that came from Dolmabahçe to the Presidency were the paintings of the Italian artists, Natale Schiavoni (1777-1858) and Luigi Rubio (1808-1882) entitled “Sleeping Woman”, dated 1843, and “Two Young Girls” respectively, while in the National Palaces collection can be found “Odalisque” by Francesco Saverio Altamura de Corregio (1826-1897) and “Attack of the Cavaliers” by Antonio Mancini (1852-1930). It is thought that the works of these Italian artists may have been acquired from Goupil, although the documents that would prove this cannot be found.

The Italian, Alberto Pasini, who came to Istanbul on three occasions during the reign of Sultan Abdülaziz, was introduced to the Orient through the painter, Théodore Chasseriau, who was his teacher when he went to Paris in 1851, and visited Istanbul for the first time in 1856 while returning to his homeland from Iran. The artist visited Istanbul later, in 1867 and 1873, and continued to create many oil-paintings and countless drawings in an orientalist style according to his own desire. He made four paintings for Sultan Abdülaziz which took the Cretan Revolt of 1866-69 as their subject, and which are today part of the National Palaces collection. He signed a photograph taken by Goupil of his work entitled “Femmes Turque – Les Eaux douces d’Asie sur le Bosphore” and dedicated it to his friend in Istanbul, Izzet Bey[vii].

In a period when “Goupil & Cie”, who were under contract for the sales of Pasini’s Orientalist paintings, sold more than five hundred of his works to European and American collectors and art traders, the Palace gave priority to subjects that were not Orientalist. Thanks to the developing interest in Orientalist painting in Turkey and the fact of our staking a claim on our cultural heritage, the entry into Turkey of Orientalist-themed works by Pasini, Gérome, Frére, and similar artists, which possess the quality of a document in a time when the art of photography had not yet become widespread, has been accelerated in the last twenty to thirty years.

Among the works purchased from “Goupil & Cie” between 1870 and 1876 are names from the French school, such as Alfred Eloi Auteroche (1831-1906), Auguste Bonheur (1824-1884), Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905), Gustave Boulanger (1824-1888), Charles-François Daubigny (1817-1878), Charles Chaplin (1825-1891), Alfred De Dreux (1810-1860), Jean-Léon Gérome (1824-1904), Victor Leclaire (1830-1885), François de Mesgrigny (1836-1884), Edmond de Schampheleer (1824-1899), Jean Antoine Gudin (1802-1880), Pierre Auguste Cot (1837-1883), Fernand Cormon (1854-1924), Charles Kuwasseg (1838-1904), Emile van Marcke De Lummen (1827-1890), and Georges Washington (1827-1901). Among the works of these artists, the most striking is Pierre Auguste Cot’s “Spring”, which is today housed in the collection of the Turkish Presidency.

The composition entitled “Spring” by Pierre Auguste Cot (1837-1883), who was a pupil of Cogniet, Cabanel, and Bouguereau, is recognised as being one of the artist’s masterpieces and it represents an allegorical scene of an adolescent boy and girl in one another’s embrace. The dimensions of the work are 113x80cm and it was bought from Goupil on 27th November 1876. Cot had earlier depicted the same scene three times, in larger dimensions. According to Goupil’s stock books, the first piece, dated 1873, which is today known to be in the “Appleton Museum of Art” in Florida, was sold by Goupil to an “anonymous” client on 25th June 1873. Another depiction, also dated 1873, is exhibited in the Metropolitan Museum’s No. 827 gallery, alongside another of the artist’s works entitled “L’Orage”. According to records at the Metropolitan, both pieces were commissioned by the American art collector, John Wolfe. In 1999, another “Spring” painting, also dated 1873, was put up for sale in a New York auction house, but due to its high asking price it could not be sold. With this example, we see that significant artists of the period who were working on successful subjects and had a large portfolio of customers might repeat the same compositions many times for clients who made contact with them directly or through “Goupil & Cie”.

Jean-Léon Gérome’s painting entitled “Lion dans la Grotte”, which was acquired from Goupil in 1875, can be found in the Presidency collection. Other orientalist-themed works by the artist “Café in Egypt”, today in the Dolmabahçe Palace and “The Zeybeks” today at the Presidency collection are thought to have been acquired, at a later date, from different sources. Bouguereau’s work entitled “Italienne a la Fontaine”, Fernand Cormon’s “Sita” and Anatolie Scifoni’s “Tepidarium Pompéien” all acquired from Goupil, are thought to have been destroyed in a fire in the Çırağan Palace in 1909. According to Goupil & Cie’s stock records, another of Bouguereau’s paintings entitled “Italienne a la Fontaine” was sold to the English art dealer, Wallis, in 1869.

Alongside the French and Italian artists, among the works bought from “Goupil & Cie” are paintings by Alfred Wahlberg (1834-1906) and Wilhelm von Gegerfelt (1844-1920) from Sweden, Joseph Coomans (1816-1889) from Belgium, Petrus van Schendel (1806-1870) from the Netherlands, and the German Adolf Schreyer (1828-1899). Among these, the one that is without doubt the most interesting is Schendel’s “Fish Market” dated 1841, which is today exhibited in the Presidency collection. Vincent van Gogh in a letter to his brother Théo on April 21st 1885, among other artists, makes reference to Schendel’s works stating “It’s perhaps not superfluous to point out how one of the most beautiful things by the painters of this century has been the painting of DARKNESS that is still COLOUR”[viii]. When the work “Fish Market” was acquired in 1872, we note from Goupil’s stock registers that the artists name was confused with Bernardus Van Schendel (1647-1709).

It is understood from Goupil’s stock books that, as well as the paintings obtained during the Sultan Abdülaziz period in order to build up a collection in the Palace, there were also works bought from “Goupil & Cie” for themselves by various pashas who served in the Palace or had an association with it. Among these, it is recorded that Claude François Auguste Mesgrigny’s “La Maré-soleil couchant” and “Paysage”, Adolphe Schreyer’s “Cavalier”, Charles Moreau’s “La Voiture”, Gustave Boulanger’s “L’Attente”, and Georges Washington’s “L’Abreuvoir” belonged to Abraham Eramyan Pasha (1833-1918), a close friend of Sultan Abdülaziz of Armenian origin. The “L’Attente” composition has an association with the subject of “Bedouins Crossing the River”, which is in the Palace Collection, but it is not recorded whether it was acquired from Goupil.

In the years 1872 to 1873, Charles Landelle’s “Fumeur Fellah”, Diaz de la Peña’s “Orientales”, Constant Troyon’s “Paysages et Animaux”, and Felix Ziem’s “Landscape” were bought by a statesman who is thought to have been Garabin Artin Davud Pasha (1816-1873), the provincial governor of Lebanon, who was of Armenian origin. It is recorded that Ali Pasha, thought to be Ahmet Ali Pasha who was managing the purchase of works of art on behalf of the Palace, bought for himself Emile Lecomte-Vernet’s “Almée a la Guitare”, “Le Palais Ducal de Venise” by Amedée Rosier (1831-1898), and Nicolas Perignon’s “Dormeuse”. Also in the Palace Collection is a similar work entitled “Venice” by Rosier, but there is no sign of this in the Goupil records, while the name of the Khedive of Egypt, Abbas Hilmi Pasha, has come to be associated with the painting “Les Comediens”, one of Jean-Léon Gérome’s neo-Greek works.

We can see, when we examine the National palace archives that in the years 1870 to 1876[ix], a great number of telegrams were sent from “Goupil & Cie” for the attention of Ahmed Ali Pasha informing the Palace about various paintings. In the same archives are also found bills made out by “Goupil & Cie” in the name of “Sa Majesté Imperiale le Sultan”. Similarly we also note receipts for payments made by Ahmed Ali Pasha to the “Credit Lyonnais Bank Istanbul” in settlement for the value of the paintings and freight payments made to the local shipping agency of “Compagnies de Messageries Maritimes” for works either received from or being returned to Paris.

It can be understood from the correspondence and telegrams between the Paris branch of “Goupil & Cie”and Istanbul that the purchase of paintings proceeded at a slow tempo, that the dealership was experiencing its company’s most intense period of business and for this reason there could not have been a better possibility when it came to choice, and that the purchase could only be made according to the works which had been suggested. It might be presumed that if transport and communication could have been faster, the Palace might have been able to buy a greater number of quality works according to a plan, and in so doing create an even richer collection. The omission of such names as Ingres, Degas, Courbet, Géricault, Cabanel, Delacroix and Decamps from the National Palaces, the Presidency, and State institutions collections is palpable. Not acquiring representative samples from these artists at the time is regrettable. If the acquisitions from Goupil & Cie had continued towards the end of the 19th century, it might have even been possible to see works on the palace walls of Istanbul of such masters of the Impressionist school as Monet, Manet, Cezanne and Renoir .

The French Ambassador, the Comte de Bourgoing, in a letter he adressed on 28th June 1876 to the Foreign Minister, Safvet Pasha,[x] at the Ottoman Ministry of Foreign Affairs, made a request for a payment from the Ottoman Government of 33,000.40 francs remaining from the total amount agreed for paintings Goupil & Cie had sent to Sultan Abdülaziz and his son, Prince Yusuf Izzeddin Efendi, between 1875 and 1876. Attached to the letter is a document confirming the veracity of the debt, which had been prepared by Ahmed Ali Pacha, whose duty it was to act as a middleman between the deceased Sultan Abdülaziz and his son and Goupil & Cie. We can understand from these documents that Prince Yusuf Izzeddin Efendi was following in his father’s footsteps with regards to artistic subjects. We can also see that after the correspondence made in the wake of Sultan Abdülaziz’s death, with the ascension to the throne of Sultan Abdülhamid II in 1876, that the purchase of paintings from Goupil & Cie ceased entirely. There may be a connection between this cessation of the acquisition of paintings, the new Sultan’s preference of Yıldız Palace over Dolmabahçe Palace for his residential quarters along with his making Ahmet Ali Pasha responsible for the protocol concerning foreign guests, and the appointment of court painters during the course of his reign.

We can understand from Goupil’s stock books that, in the second half of the nineteenth century particularly, during the period when galleries, along with the European royal families and European and American collectors, were buying works of the European school in large numbers from “Goupil & Cie”, apart Europe and America, works of art were being marketed and sold exclusively to the Ottoman Empire. In other words, while Goupil was sending paintings to Istanbul, countries in the middle- and far-east saw no similar cultural reform in the field of the plastic arts. The investment in European art in the Ottoman Empire in those years should be considered as a sublime development.

Sultan Abdülhamid II’s first court painter, Luigi Acquarone, because Pierre-Auguste Cot’s painting entitled “Spring”, which had been bought from Goupil, could not be taken out of the Palace, made a copy of it in 1895 and it was presented as an example of the Barbizon School in an exhibition at the School of Fine Arts on 27th October 1915[xi]. The renowned French journalist, Edmund About, who came to Istanbul on the Orient Express’ first journey to Istanbul in 1883, explains in his book, after visiting the “Imperial Museum”, which had been completed in 1881 and otherwise known as “Hamdi Bey’s Museum”, that there were close to twenty students studying at the “School of Fine Arts”, a section of whom were able to improve their techniques by working with live models, while others were working from drawing course-books composed of nude portrait drawing plans bought from “Goupil & Cie”.[xii] From above two examples even if “Goupil & Cie” is known as a business partner that sold paintings to the Palace and collectors in Istanbul, it should also be remembered for the contribution it made to the Turkish plastic arts.


[i] Gerome & Goupil ‘Art et Enterprise” pp.13-29, Edition de la Réunion de Musées Nationaux, 2000 Paris.
[ii] Later known as Şeker Ahmet Pasha.
[iii] www.getty.edu/…/goupil_cie/index.html
[iv] Gülsen Sevinç Kaya, “Milli Saraylar Tablo Koleksiyonu”, pp. 36 , TBMM Milli Saraylar Publication, Istanbul 2010
[v] http:///vangoghletters.org/vg/letters, letter from Vincent to Theo dated 24 July 1875.
[vi] Gülsen Sevinç Kaya, “Milli Saraylar Tablo Koleksiyonu”, pp. 36 , TBMM Milli Saraylar Publication, Istanbul 2010
[vii] Erol Makzume collection.
[viii] http:///vangoghletters.org/vg/letters, letter from Vincent to Theo dated 21 April 1885.
[ix] TBMM National Palaces archives Istanbul .
[x] TBMM National Palaces archives Istanbul .
[xi] Gülsen Sevinç Kaya, “Milli Saraylar Tablo Koleksiyonu”, pp. 341-342 , TBMM Milli Saraylar Publication, Istanbul 2010
[xii] Gerome & Goupil ‘Art et Enterprise” pp.55-56, Edition de la Réunion de Musées Nationaux, 2000 Paris. Through the collaboration between Bargue and Gerome, Goupil & Cie published three sketch books: 1) Modeles d’apres la bosse 2) Modeles d’apres les maitres, 3) Exerciee au fusain . Said books wre circulated to art schools and around the world.