Osman Hamdi Bey art
‘Young Woman Reading’ by Osman Hamdi Bey – £5.7m at Bonhams.

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The sum represented a huge return on the £1900 that it fetched at a Sotheby's auction in London in April 1976 where it was acquired by a member of the UK vendor’s family.

Prices for the artist have risen significantly in the last 20 years, especially after the landmark sale of the 1906 painting The Tortoise Trainer to the private Pera Museum in Istanbul for 5m Turkish Lira (approximately £1.8m) in December 2004.

As well as an artist, Hamdi Bey was a statesman, bureaucrat, archaeologist, museum director and architect. He founded the Istanbul Museum of Fine Arts and was an early director of Istanbul’s archaeology museums.

His various contributions to Ottoman intellectual life has meant his works have “made him a controversial symbol of Turkish nationalism and cultural reform in recent years”, according to the Bonhams catalogue.

Orientalist style

In his early years, Hamdi studied painting in Paris under Gustave Boulanger and Jean-Léon Gérôme, two prominent French Orientalists and their style and influence is highly evident in Hamdi’s works.

The Bonhams catalogue states that “he has long been considered a curiosity within the genre.. Too Turkish for some, too French for others, Osman Hamdi and his works have been framed by the politics of these debates”.

Speaking about the sale on September 26, Bonhams’ head of 19th century art Charles O’Brien said: “Young Woman Reading was one of the finest of Osman Hamdi Bey’s paintings to appear at auction in recent years. I am not surprised that the bidding was so strong and that it set a new world record sum for the artist. The sum achieved for Young Woman Reading, and for the three works in the sale by Ludwig Deutsch, demonstrate the strength of the market for Orientalist paintings.”

The 16.25 x 20in (41 x 51cm) oil on canvas dated from 1880 and was more commonly known by the title Young Girl Reading the Qur'an. It displayed many of the Hamdi’s trademarks in terms of style and subject matter such as the decorative background, Islamic patterns and the subject’s richly textured dress.

The previous record for Hamdi Bey was the £3.38m including buyer’s premium for A Lady Of Constantinople from 1881 that sold at Sotheby's London in May 2008, according to Art Sales Index.

Overall, Orientialist pictures contributed the lion’s share of the £11m total (including premium) of Bonhams’ 19th Century European, Victorian and British Impressionist art auction.

Three works by leading Austrian Orientalist Ludwig Deutsch were also among the top five lots of the sale, all selling above estimate.

The buyer’s premium at Bonhams was 27.5% / 25% / 20% / 13.9%.