Written by writer Emre Caner, “Following the Footsteps of Lady Mihri Müşfik” tells the life story of Mihri Müşfik Hanım, one of the leading women in Turkish painting, that is built in a fiction parallel to her own life. The work, which tells the journey of the hero of the novel, Ulaş, following the footsteps of Lady Mihri Müşfik on the idea of writing a book about the painter, drawing parallels between the two characters who have difficulties in their lives. Blending the story of Lady Mihri, who devoted herself to the fight for her “existence” as a woman in Turkey at the beginning of the 20th century, and an author in the same geography at the end of the century. The novel deals with the life of the famous painter through the lens of today, showcasing the interesting life story of Lady Mihri Müşfik, one of Turkey’s first female painters, explains why the hero of the novel followed herself.
Lady Mihri, who inspired Emre Caner’s book, is a Turkish woman who truly lived beyond her time, considering the period and country she lived in. Lady Mihri, who was born as the daughter of a pasha in a mansion in Kadıköy in 1886 and has also been interested in literature and music since her childhood, always had a passion for painting.
When the paintings she made were presented to the sultan of the period Sultan Abdulhamit II. were liked, she began to take lessons from the Palace painter Zonaro. She became the first woman to make contemporary painting works at the time, but the atmosphere in Zonaro and Istanbul was not enough for her. Lady Mihri went to Italy alone at the age of 17 with a fake passport in her hand, developed herself and her art while she lived in Italy and France. During her time in Paris, she met Mr. Müşfik Selami, who was studying political sciences at the Sorbonne. After her marriage, she took the name “Lady Mihri Müşfik”, that is known in the art world, and settled in Turkey.
Thanks to Mehmet Cavit, the Minister of Finance of the Ottoman Empire, whom she met at a party in Paris, she was appointed to the İnas Sanayi-i Nefise School as an art teacher in 1913. Mihri Hanım became the first female manager and teacher of the university-level İnas Sanayi-i Nefise Mektebi (Fine Arts School for Girls) within the Ottoman Empire in Istanbul, while women were not officially accepted as students in state academies in many countries, even in Europe. With her progressive education approach, she enabled many female artists such as Nazlı Ecevit, Aliye Berger, Fahrelnisa Zeid to flourish. The portrait of Mustafa Kemal that she painted in 1922 went down in history as the first portrait of Atatürk made by a Turkish painter after the proclamation of the Republic. As a portrait artist she painted many famous figures such as Atatürk, F. D. Roosevelt, Edison, Edwin Markham, Pope XV.
The artist spent the last years of her life in America, first gaining important artistic achievements, but later falling from grace when her bohemian lifestyle caught up to her. She started to live in a homeless shelter. When she died here in 1954, she was buried in a cemetery for the homeless.
Although about 150 works of the artist are recorded in the researches carried out until 1988, 32 in Turkey, 36 in Italy, 23 in France and more than 60 in the USA, many of her works are still considered lost today. The “Gypsy” painting she produced while she was in France was accepted to the Louvre Museum when she was alive. While the original painting resides in the Louvre, a copy of the painting can be seen in the Istanbul Painting and Sculpture Museum.