JANE PETERSON (1876–1965)
The Grand Bazaar, Constantinople, 1924
Gouache and charcoal on light gray paper, 23 1/4 x 17 3/4 in.
EXHIBITED: National Academy of Design, New York, April 1–24, 1925, 100th Annual Exhibition, no. 402
EX COLL.: private collection, New York, by 1994, and by descent until the present
Peterson spent the summer of 1924 in Turkey, primarily in Constantinople. That ancient city, once Greek Byzantium, then Roman and Ottoman Constantinople and soon to be Turkish Istanbul, impressed the artist, and elicited some of her finest works. The story of Peterson’s 1924 trip to Turkey begins in a characteristic Peterson way. Peterson was speaking with a fellow painter, Philadelphian Arrah Lee Gaul (1883–1980). Gaul asked about Peterson’s plans for the following summer and Peterson said that though she planned to go to Europe, she had not yet decided on a destination. Gaul sang the praises of Turkey, which she had visited with her missionary parents in the previous year. It was “the most beautiful, the most unusual, the most fascinating place.... Why don’t we go to Turkey?” This was catnip for Peterson. She immediately agreed. Gaul, however, cautioned, “Be careful not to let my father and mother know that I am planning to go to Turkey, because they would forbid it.”
Peterson and Gaul met, as planned, in Paris and set out by train for Constantinople traveling on the famed Orient Express. (The city was not finally and officially renamed “Istanbul” until 1930.) Peterson mentions Gaul only briefly in her writing, mostly to note that her companion left Turkey before she did. When Peterson arrived in Turkey, the new Republic was less than a year old. In March 1924, the last Ottoman Caliph, Abdulmecid II, went into permanent exile when the Caliphate, dating to 1299, was abolished. Mustafa Kemal had yet to begin his series of westernizing and secularizing reforms. Peterson’s narrative of her visit to Turkey, in the infancy of its democracy, is detailed. She emerges as a firm friend of the land and people, not just an admirer but an advocate.
I painted in the streets, cafes, markets and bazaars. I mingled with the crowed, shoving and pushing to get a place on the street cars. I dined at the native restaurants along with clerks, cabmen and teamsters—though I lived at the Pera Palace Hotel. I met artists, writers, businessmen, soldiers and politicians. I was entertained in modest as well as fashionable Turkish homes. Nowhere else have I found such solicitous courtesy and generosity—that’s why I like to talk about Turkey.
Peterson’s view shows the traditional organization of the Grand Bazaar. Merchants showed their wares on shelves which, as here, were concealed behind draperies outside of business hours. We see the cushioned benches in front of the shelves where proprietors sat, ever available to engage with potential customers. At the center of the picture is one of the Bazaar’s kiosks, originally used to prepare and serve simple foods. Peterson’s picture is most distinctive, however, for its departure from the romantic orientalist tradition of western artists. In showing the market when it is closed to the public, she eschews the bustling aisles and the profusion of colorful exotic goods that characterized the genre. Peterson’s visit to Turkey, in the summer of 1924, coincided with the early days of Kemal’s reform regime. In that respect the picture functions as a time capsule. Mustafa Kemal was emphatic about the need for modern Turkish men to dress in their public lives as did their Western counterparts. Peterson’s merchants, to a man, wear sober, western-style business suits, but still cover their heads with the red fez that was the symbol of Ottoman Turkey. In November 1925, the Grand National Turkish Assembly decreed the first of Mustafa’s costume “reforms,” the “Change of Headgear and Dress” law that banned the wearing of the fez and decreed for men a western style hat. Ironically, the fez itself had been a 19th-century reform intended as an Ottoman nationalist statement, replacing the distinctive head coverings of Jews, Christians, and Muslims with one secular style that identified them only as Turks.