October 22, 2021

Lucky Life

Arts Fanatics

Alexis Gritchenko: A Ukranian refugee painter in Istanbul

5 min read

Writers, poets, painters… All over its historical heritage, Istanbul has hosted numerous artists, and most of them bid farewell to it on their way to their hometowns, acquiring fallen in enjoy with it. Among them was a Ukranian painter, a “refugee” like these who are attempting to locate a way from the Center East to Europe right now.

Recognised for his really like of Hagia Sophia, this man or woman was Alexis Gritchenko of Ukrainian descent, who was just one of Russia’s nicely-known painters and artwork historians.

In simple fact, Istanbul has named to Russians for hundreds of years. For numerous, it was the political importance of it, as mentioned by Napoleon: “He who conquers Constantinople guidelines fifty percent the planet.” But Russians gave a unique level of value to the city owing to its standing as the heart of the fallen Byzantine Empire, an empire that has had a lot influence on Russian socio-religious life.



Alexis Gritchenko, “Golden Horn,” 1921, gouache on paper, Ömer Koç collection, Turkey.

Gritchenko (1883-1977) was one particular of the indispensable figures of the modern day art scene in Moscow. At the beginning of the 20th century, he participated in exhibitions with avant-garde painters, wrote art criticisms and gave lectures. He was specifically a savant in the industry of Byzantine artwork.

However, following the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917, Gritchenko was convinced that he could not remain in the nation any more time.

“Art is turning out to be a tool of propaganda,” he experienced mentioned as he fled to Istanbul on a ship from the lands where by communism experienced started to dominate.

Nonetheless, he had not only escaped the oppressive routine, but he experienced also saved a painting system totally distinctive to himself by carrying out so. The technique and design and style that he had founded would be recognized as “dynamocolor,” an art movement influenced by cubism and futurism.

In adore with Istanbul

When Gritchenko set foot in Istanbul in November 1919, the city was going through turbulent times under British profession. But he was very little intrigued in contemporary-working day issues. What named to Gritchenko was the common and historical facets of the town that was scorned and dismissed by quite a few Ottomans of the period of time.


Alexis Gritchenko, “Hagia Sophia,” 1920, watercolor and pencil on paper, Ömer Koç collection, Turkey.
Alexis Gritchenko, “Hagia Sophia,” 1920, watercolor and pencil on paper, Ömer Koç collection, Turkey.

He was fascinated with the historic peninsula and wandered each inch of it. Temples, facet streets, boathouses and espresso homes…

He recorded his impressions of the vivid ports, markets, sacred spaces, majestic monuments and the day-to-day daily life of Istanbul though wandering via the streets, notepad, pen and brush in hand.

‘Did you pray right now?’

He liked Hagia Sophia the most. He would depict praying Muslims, teachers and dervishes there with his distinctive design and style.

Despite the fact that he was a non-Muslim, he would pay a visit to so quite a few mosques that his Russian friends in Istanbul would joke with him when they stayed at his house, indicating, “Did you pray right now?” That is how some of his popular will work were produced, specifically “Hamal in Prayer,” “Prayer Time” and “4 Adult men in Fezes.”

Nonetheless, the refugee painter had arrived in Istanbul penniless and strike difficult periods in the town. He was forced to paint with watercolor owing to his absence of funds, something he applied to scorn.

Artwork in cemeteries

Irrespective of his tricky situation, Gritchenko managed to entice the awareness of the well-known Turkish painters of the period of time with his art in what would be deemed a brief time period of time. He set up shut friendships with artists like Ibrahim Çallı, Namık Ismail and Feyhaman Duran, and also affected them with his art.


Namık Ismail, “Portrait of Alexis Gritchenko,” oil on cardboard, private collection, Turkey.
Namık Ismail, “Portrait of Alexis Gritchenko,” oil on cardboard, personal assortment, Turkey.

Gritchenko, with his damaged Turkish, stated that French art could not be an aspiration for Turks and emphasised they must be motivated by the tombstones and miniatures of their society. Çallı heeded what Gritchenko reported.

Interestingly, it was a Ukranian painter who taught puzzled Turkish artists their own culture’s value.

Ahmet Haşim, who was one of the popular writers of Turkish literature, experienced 1st judged Gritchenko to be mentally sick when he satisfied him at Sanayi-i Nefise (Good Arts), or today’s Mimar Sinan High-quality Arts College. Having said that they became rapid close friends, and Haşim kept Gritchenko’s paintings at his house.

The amazing painter remaining Istanbul where he stayed for two several years, after assembly the archaeologist Thomas Whittemore who grew to become a fantastic patron of his.

Unable to forget the town, Gritchenko opened exhibitions on the scented society of Istanbul in France, the place he settled. He also wrote a memoir named “Deux ans a Constantinople” (“Two A long time in Istanbul”) and recorded people times in history.

Dozens of is effective of Gritchenko remain on display in more than 20 museums, archives and private collections around the world. It is regarded that the famous Turkish small business operator and collector Ömer Koç is also a lover of his.


Alexis Gritchenko, “In the Coffeehouse,” February 1921, watercolor and pencil on paper, Ömer Koç collection, Turkey.
Alexis Gritchenko, “In the Coffeehouse,” February 1921, watercolor and pencil on paper, Ömer Koç collection, Turkey.

Not like Europe

In Gritchenko’s paintings in Istanbul, just one encounters the heroes of the city from above which a fog has fallen. Figures from around a century back, from sincere worshippers to hermit dervishes, from aged fishers to gentlemen in fezzes. In the steamy paintings that Gritchenko established with his “dynamocolor” model, town ​​walls, mosques, tombstones and other shrines and temples greet now with “hope.”

The paintings are infused with Gritchenko’s sentiments. As Gritchenko had as soon as said, “Everything in this nation is for painters … This put is not like Europe. I can take my every phase in accordance to my have will, drive, from time to time fully in accordance to my exhibitions. This is the area of the painter.”

In some cases it surprises you that he failed to treatment about the other issues that had been likely on in Istanbul in those people several years.

Of program, when you witness this artist who came to Istanbul as a refugee and his struggle to maintain on to everyday living, you envy him.

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