An Extraordinary Collection

One Of Turkey’s Leading Collectors Of Orientalist Painting, Businessman Erol Makzume Is Also A World-Renowned Expert On Fausto Zonaro.

The Orientalist painters represent an important period in European painting. Seen in their paintings is the way the western world perceived the East, and their interest in and admiration for it. Tracking down the works of these painters over many years, Erol Makzume has created a significant collection. We had a pleasant conversation with him about his research and exhibitions and the paintings themselves for Skylife readers. How did you get into collecting? The land where I was born and raised is home to some of the world’s richest and most vibrant cultures. Our family is actually from Hatay in southern Turkey on the border with Syria. Some of our family members and friends are in Beirut and Aleppo while others have scattered to various countries in Europe. Consequently, my childhood that started in Aleppo was spent in a world that extended to Beirut, Rome, Paris and, of course, Istanbul. I grew up knowing different worlds, different cultural milieus. It was a rich world that, even at that age, aroused in me a curiosity to know and research it. And that interest and research eventually led me to collecting and becoming a collector. Why did you choose that area? My researcher persona led me to it. Before the art of photography came to Turkey, artists began flocking to Anatolia and the Ottoman lands when travel between the east and the west became easier in the early 19th century. These artists, who were the illustrators of their time, depicted our way of life, our people, the Bosphorus, our historic sites and our skies in the near-documentary canvases they painted. I decided to research the subject-matter and history of every Orientalist painting I owned. With time I accumulated more knowledge and I got interested in the painters’ lives and made biographical studies. Taking the subjects of their paintings as my point of departure, I published articles that attracted the interest of readers in the history magazines. How did you get interested in Fausto Zonaro? Around the time I got interested in the Orientalist painters, I wrote a book about Van Mour together with a family friend, the writer and researcher Öndes Bey. Fausto Zonaro’s name came up next. I had met the painter’s family in Florence as a result of the research I’d been doing, and I forged a lasting friendship with them. Some incredibly valuable documents about the artist’s time in Istanbul turned up in the family, and the book, “Ottoman Palace Painter: Fausto Zonaro”, which is now out of print, was published by Yapı Kredi Yayınları in 2003. What sort of painter was Zonaro? There is no doubt that Fausto Zonaro, who was accorded the title of Palace Painter during the reign of Sultan Abdulhamid II, is one of the most important foreign artists who ever came to Turkey. Zonaro, who could work in several different painting techniques, was an inimitable artist of Istanbul life and light. He left a mark on the world of Orientalist painting in genuine masterpieces like Bairam, 10th of Muharrem, Fire Brigades, Dervishes, The Battle of Dömeke and the Ertuğrul Cavalry Regiment. Zonaro, who also trained a large number of artists at the atelier he opened in Beyoğlu’s Parmakkapı quarter, played a key role in the development of the plastic arts in Turkey. Have you taken an interest in artists other than Zonaro? Yes, of course. After holding Zonaro exhibitions in Turkey and abroad, I undertook coordination of the exhibition at Dolmabahçe Palace and in Bari, Italy, of another important Italian artist, Leonardo de Mango, which was mounted by the Turkish Directorate of National Palaces. In 2006 I coordinated the exhibition, “From the Ottoman Palace Collection”, which was mounted to great acclaim in Abu Dhabi, again by the National Palaces Directorate, on the 150th anniversary of the completion of Dolmabahçe Palace. I have also served as curator of 12 exhibitions of the works of close to 60 Orientalist artists from 20 countries. What can you tell us about your collection? In 25 years I have added to my collection works on Turkey by a large number of French, German and English Orientalist painters, mainly those by the Italian artists Zonaro and de Mango. For example, I could not resist acquiring a painting by Gustave Boulanger, who taught painting in Paris to Osman Hamdi Bey, one of the pioneers of oil painting in Turkey. Similarly, years ago when I learned that our Fine Arts Academy student and famous Impressionist painter Nazmi Ziya had been inspired by the French artist Paul Signac, I purchased Signac’s 1907 watercolor titled Suleymaniye Mosque. Almost all my paintings have been included in at least five or six exhibitions up to now. Some collectors don’t like to share their works with viewers in serious exhibitions. I hope their attitude will change in time as an atmosphere of trust is created. What are your goals regarding your collection? Are you planning to open a museum or hold exhibitions? The new works in my collection primarily depict Istanbul and Ankara. Although I also have some lovely Orientalist works depicting Egypt and North Africa, my aim is to dispose of them in time and limit my collection to artists who painted areas inside the borders of present-day Turkey and specialize in that. My Zonaro painting, 10th of Muharrem, has been on exhibit at Istanbul Modern Museum for five years. An exhibition was also opened in April at Arkas Art Center, one of Izmir’s most prestigious art venues. The exhibition, called “This Side of the Aegean by Western Painters”, ran to the end of June and includes over a hundred important Orientalist works by forty-five painters, mainly from Arkas’s and my collections. My goal is to exhibit my collection at a museum to open in Beyoğlu at the end of 2014.