Osman Hamdi Bey was an important intellectual of the late Ottoman era. His masterpiece, “The Tortoise Trainer” (Kaplumbaga Terbiyecisi) is the most expensive painting in Turkey. Let’s get to know Osman Hamdi Bey and his famous painting The Tortoise Trainer better.
Osman Hamdi Bey was born in 1842 in Istanbul. He was one of the first Turkish students who studied abroad. He studied law, art and archaeology. After Paris, he returned to Istanbul and Sultan II. Abdulhamit made him first principal of country’s first fine arts school. Osman Hamdi Bey is considered as the father of modern Turkish museology.
Osman Hamdi Bey’s most prominent painting is The Tortoise Trainer. There are some claims for its meaning. In the painting, there is an old man who has two Turkish musical instruments, the “ney” and a small double drum (kudum) which are both important for Mevleviyeh. These instruments and his beard show that this old man is a dervish. Some people claim that this dervish is Osman Hamdi Bey himself and tortoises are his colleagues. According to this claim, his colleagues are too slow for the trainer, namely Osman Hamdi Bey, and he is satirizing them.
The other claim says that the dervish is Osman Hamdi Bey, again, but the tortoises are people. Osman Hamdi Bey tries to educate and modernize the public with art and culture however they are resisting progress.
According to another claim, Osman Hamdi Bey was inspired from a gravure he saw on French magazine Tour du Monde. In that gravure, an old trainer was beating his little drum and tortoises were climbing to a table. That gravure’s name was also The Tortoise Trainer (Charmeur de Tortues in French). Osman Hamdi Bey painted his painting in 1906. Charmeur de tortues was published in 1869. Moreover, Osman Hamdi Bey wrote his father “I read the Tour du Monde you sent me” in his letter in 1869.
Osman Hamdi Bey painted a smaller version of his work again, a year later. There are few changes between the paintings, but the main theme is the same.