Fahrelnissa Zeid: Istanbul’s famed abstract artist gets solo retrospective at Tate Modern  

London’s leading contemporary art gallery is currently hosting the works of Turkish female artist Fahrelnissa Zeid. Frances Morris, director of Tate Modern, says this major exhibition is an opportunity to re-appraise the “huge, ornate, decorative, multifaceted, brilliantly coloured, swirling abstract paintings” of this pioneering artist.

Born into an elite Ottoman family in 1901, Zeid was among first women to receive formal training as an artist in Istanbul and one of the first representatives of Turkish modern art.

She was best known for her large-scale colourful canvases – some over five metres wide – fusing European approaches to abstract art with Byzantine, Islamic and Persian influences.

The Tate’s retrospective reveals Zeid as an important figure in the international story of abstract art. It brings together paintings, drawings and sculptures from expressionist works made in Istanbul in the early 1940s, with immersive abstract canvases exhibited in London, Paris and New York in the 1950s and 1960s, finishing with her return to portraiture later in life.

Almost all of Zeid’s abstract works are named by herself; one of the things that attract attention in the exhibition: ‘Abstract Parrot’, ‘Alice in Wonderland’, ‘Loch Lomond’, ‘My Hell’ and ‘Sea Cave’ are, to name a few, among her colourful collection.

The show highlights her breakthrough moment in the early 1940s, when she championed experimental approaches to painting and exhibited with the avant-garde d Group in Turkey. Zeid’s work from this period, such as the tapestry-like ‘Third-Class Passengers’, demonstrate her affinities with divergence from international art movements, blending European painting traditions with Oriental themes.

Third Class Passengers, 1943, by Fahrelnissa Zeid. Oil paint on plywood, 130 x 100 cm. Istanbul Museum of Modern Art Collection, Eczacıbaşı Group Donation (Istanbul, Turkey). © Raad Zeid Al-Hussein © Istanbul Museum of Modern Art


Several works from her early solo exhibitions, held in her own apartment in Istanbul in the mid-1940s, are also reunited at Tate’s resurrection, including ‘Three Ways of Living’ and ‘Three Moments in a Day and a Life’.

The artist’s works, which have fully embraced abstraction, precise geometric patterns and vibrant colours, are exhibited at Tate thanks to contributions of Zeid’s family and the Istanbul Modern Museum Collection.

Fahrelnissa Zeid is curated at Tate Modern by Kerryn Greenberg, Curator, International Art and Vassilis Oikonomopoulos, Assistant Curator, Collections International Art. It runs until 8 October.

Fahrelnissa Zeid painting in her Paris studio c. 1950s. Raad Zeid Al-Hussein Collection. © Raad Zeid Al-Hussein


Exhibition details

Title: Fahrelnissa Zeid (1901–1991)

Dates: 13 June 2017 – 08 October 2017

Gallery opening times: Sunday to Thursday 10.00–18.00; Friday and Saturday 10.00–22.00 

Venue address:  Tate Modern, Bankside, London SE1 9TG 

Admission: £10 – £12.30 / Free for members

Info and tickets: visit www.tate.org.uk or call 020 7887 8888 to book tickets


Main image: ‘Fight against Abstraction’, 1947, by Fahrelnissa Zeid. Oil paint on canvas, 101 x 151 cm. Istanbul Museum of Modern Art Collection, Eczacıbaşı Group Donation (Istanbul, Turkey). © Raad Zeid Al-Hussein © Istanbul Museum of Modern Art