The great Turkish sculptor Zühtü Müridoğlu is being remembered on the 100th anniversary of his birth in a retrospective at Yapı Kredi Kâzım Taşkent Art Gallery.
Zühtü Müridoğlu, who spent eighty years of his life giving shape to stone, clay, wood and metal, was one of the pioneers of the art of sculpture in Turkey. Besides the abstract and representational sculptures large and small that he created using a wide array of materials, Müridoğlu was also responsible for the Barbaros Monument at Beşiktaş in Istanbul and for some of the reliefs on Atatürk’s Mausoleum (Anıtkabir) in Ankara. He died on 21 August 1992.
Zühtü Müridoğlu, who was born in Istanbul on 26 January 1906, entered the Painting Department of the Imperial Academy of the Fine Arts in 1924, transferring later to the Department of Sculpture. As the recipient of the Academy’s graduation prize for 1927-28, Müridoğlu earned the right to study in the then world art capital of Paris, where he began working in the atelier of Marcel Gimond (1894-1961) at the Colarossi Academy.
As a young artist from a country bent on modernizing, Müridoğlu’s concept of art was profoundly influenced by the experiences of his Paris years. Modernism became a virtual mission for Müridoğlu, who from now on was the representative of a generation that craved change. As he would say repeatedly, “I want to forget everything I’ve learned up to now!” Indeed, he wanted to get as far away as possible from the academic approach to the figure and the art of sculpture in general, and open himself up to fresh experiments and new horizons. It is in his busts that the impact of Müridoğlu’s Paris period and the influence of his teacher there find their most noteworthy expression.
TURKEY’S FIRST SCULPTURE EXHIBITION
Upon completing his training period in Paris, Müridoğlu returned to Istanbul by train at the beginning of January 1932 and was appointed as a high school painting teacher in the town of Samsun on the Black Sea coast. But adapting to life in the provinces came hard after Paris, and when his work matured to the point that he could hold a one-man show, he organized, with the help of his colleagues and teachers, an exhibition, the first sculpture exhibition in Turkey, at the Alay Köşkü, an Ottoman pavilion near the entrance to Gülhane Park. Immediately afterwards he returned to Samsun, where he continued making the ‘Sketches’ for which his cat posed as model. Among them are also portraits of some of his new acquaintances.
Among the young artists who were struggling to overcome hardship by forming small circles of mutual support, Müridoğlu was the sole sculptor among the founding members of the ‘D Group’, which was formed in 1933 by himself and five painter friends: Zeki Faik Izer, Nurullah Berk, Cemal Tollu, Abidin Dino and Elif Naci.
Zühtü Müridoğlu together with Ali Hâdi Bara (1906-1971), Nusret Suman (1905-1978), Ratip Aşir Acudoğu (1898-1957), Hüseyin Gezer (1920-), Mehmet Şadi Çalık (1917-1984) and Ilhan Koman (1921-1986) were the first sculptors of Turkey’s Republican generation. Parallel with the concept of modernization that they espoused in the cultural life of the new Republic, these artists produced the first pioneering examples of modern Turkish sculpture through their individual quests and initiatives.
CREATOR OF MAJESTIC MONUMENTS
The monuments that Müridoğlu designed beginning in his student years earned him a series of awards.
The Barbaros Monument (1939-1944), which he created jointly with Ali Hâdi Bara, is a magnificent work of very high quality. Its cost doubled when the price of cast bronze skyrocketed during the Second World War. This monument, depicting the renowned Ottoman admiral Barbaros Hayreddin Pasha together with two sailors, one of them bearing the national flag, was realized under conditions of extreme hardship as described by Müridoğlu in his memoirs. Other projects of a monumental nature undertaken by Müridoğlu jointly with Bara include the Atatürk Monument at Zonguldak on the Black Sea coast (1941-1946), the Anıtkabir relief ‘Dumlupınar’ (1951-53), which commemorates a great battle in the Turkish War of Liberation, the Atatürk Monument in the eastern town of Muş (1963-1965) and the Atatürk Monument on Büyükada, an island in the Sea of Marmara near Istanbul (1964-1965).
Müridoğlu resumed his life in Istanbul upon being appointed to the Archaeological Museum in 1936. He also worked for a time as a teacher in the capital Ankara during the period when the great Turkish cultural figure Sabahattin Eyüboğlu was active there as well. A teaching position in the Sculpture Department of his alma mater, which he took up in 1950, would be his final post.
ART AS A FORM OF PLAY
What Zühtü Müridoğlu understood by ‘modern’ was, at the outset, the abstract. His first abstract studies date to the 1950s when the representational approach that he had followed up to that time gradually gives way to a tendency away from the figure.
The artist was also a great master of wood carving. His ‘Warrior’ relief from 1934 can be regarded as his masterpiece in this genre. Concerned more with the movement than the mere appearance of the figure, the artist sought to convey movement in some of the minimalist wooden sculptures he created in the 1960s.
Whether the object in question is a sphere or a human head, it is the shape that speaks in his carvings, not the eyes, nose or mouth. While it would be wrong to regard Zühtü Müridoğlu’s return to the figure as retrogressive, it is nevertheless essential to point out that his representational works do not exhibit the same bold quest for form, volume, and extension that characterizes his creations of the 1950s and 60s. The sculptures that Müridoğlu designed as pure abstractions using copper and iron alongside wood were followed by bronze figures of dancing women in the 1980s.
His drawing was elegant and deft, and his modelling style engendered fresh and dynamic sensitive, living forms in clay. He avoided smooth polished areas on wood, preferring instead rippling, vibrating surfaces. Art for him was a form of play, and he practiced it as such.
Drawing was always there in all of the artist’s periods, both in the conceptual phase preparatory to his sculptures and as a means of expression in its own right. The most outstanding examples of this are the prints that he produced in his last years and the ‘Zühtü Müridoğlu Book’ that was published in 1992, the year of his death.
Müridoğlu’s wife Seniha Hanım, known to her friends as ‘the blond physicist’, was famous for her unfailing support of his persistent efforts, and it is only appropriate that we mention her very significant contribution here. As is evident from the 78 notebooks full of sketches and drawings that he left behind, sculpture for Müridoğlu was above all else a matter of design. Over a thousand of his drawings, including his close to 160 last studies, which were donated to the Istanbul Museum of Painting and Sculpture following his death, give some notion of this artist’s capacity for non-stop work and his selfless devotion to the profession to which he was bound with indefatigable enthusiasm.
We are grateful to Yapı Kredi Publications for supplying the visual materials.