The Old Istanbul was a wonder. And all we know about the old city of Istanbul comes from memories of Istanbulites and of course from city historians, painters and foreign artists of the 19th century and before.
But in all of them, there was a painter who was revered the most: Hoca Ali Rıza. He was a soldier and a painter, and he dedicated his life to portraying Istanbul, especially the Bosphorus.
Hoca Ali Rıza was born in 1858, in Üsküdar, Istanbul. His father’s name was Mehmet Rüştü Bey, who was a cavalry major and an amateur Islamic calligraphist. Ali Rıza’s family were mostly civil or military Ottoman bureaucrats; they were fond of the arts, and they supported his aspiration to learn painting.
He began painting by drawing pictures on his school books, and he kept every one of them until the end of his life.
In 1878, Ali Rıza was enrolled at the Mekteb-i Harbiye where he managed to have a painting atelier opened, after graduating from the Kuleli Military School. Ali Rıza received painting lessons from the art lecturers of Mekteb-i Harbiye.
Ali Rıza was awarded by Sultan Abdülhamid II for his endeavors in 1881.
As a lieutenant, Ali Rıza graduated from the Mekteb-i Harbiye in 1882 and was appointed as an assistant lecturer of painting. His nickname “Hoca” (meaning lecturer or teacher) comes from his life-long work as an art teacher.
Ali Rıza received an offer for continuing his art studies and painting abroad in Naples. But because of the widespread cholera epidemic in Naples, he never went there. With his superior abilities, Ali Rıza became the head painter at the Military School Printing House. He prepared three drawing books for military students, including 30 models, to help them develop their drawing skills.
Ali Rıza attended a commission that made explorations in the Ottoman State in 1891 and he made sketches of the architectural monuments of the era. In 1895, he created texture designs for the ceramics of the Royal Ceramics Factory established by Abdülhamid II. Ali Rıza also made many battle paintings during the war. And in 1903, Ali Rıza was assigned to paint a typology album for old Ottoman dresses.
Ali Rıza became the chairman of the Ottoman Painters Association after the 1908 revolution. Later he retired from the military for health reasons and began working as a civil painting teacher at several schools. He is said to have made more than 5,000 paintings and drawings, and he never sold any of them. He was too embarrassed to bargain for a painting. He used to give his painting as gifts to the people he loved.
Ali Rıza was a true impressionist and like many other impressionists, he loved the open air and drew and painted many Istanbul landscapes. He generally chose locations at or near the Bosphorus. He interpreted the city life and landscapes in old neighbourhoods such as Bebek, Arnavutköy, Burgazada, etc. Yet, his most beloved was Üsküdar, his home community.
Hoca Ali Rıza died on March 20, 1930. Over the years, Hoca Ali Rıza’s art has been praised posthumously and considered a significant part of modern Turkish art history.