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  • Writer's pictureTerry Richardson

A Brief History of Pera Museum in Istanbul

What is Pera Museum?

Pera Museum is one of Istanbul’s best galleries, in a former hotel favoured by well-heeled travellers arriving from Europe aboard the Orient Express.

Pera Museum

Pera Museum History

Built in 1893 to a design by the architect Achille Manoussos, this attractive Neoclassical building once stood in the heart of fashionable Pera, the European quarter of Istanbul in the Ottoman period. It was originally the prestigious Hotel Bristol and continued to serve as such until the 1980s. Briefly the offices of a tyre manufacturer, then for rather longer a bank, the building was eventually bought by the Suna and Inan Kiraç Foundation. Under the patronage of this charitable organisation and the direction of architect Sinan Genim, it was transformed into a stylish museum and art gallery, opening in 2005.

Pera is best known for a superb permanent exhibition, the Orientalist Painting Collection, housed on the second floor. It features works by well-known European Orientalist painters such as Fausto Zonaro, Antoine de Favray and Tristram James Ellis, but pride of place is taken by Osman Hamdi Bey, an Ottoman of Greek origin active in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. A polymath who had studied both law and painting in Paris, he did much to stop the selling of antiquities to Europe from Ottoman lands, excavated the famous Sidon necropolis, served as curator of the Istanbul Archaeological Museums, and still found time to paint. His most iconic work, The Tortoise Trainer, was purchased by the Pera Museum in 2004 for $3.5 million, then a record amount for a Turkish painting.

Here you’ll also find the Kütahya Tiles and Ceramics Collection, the most comprehensive assembly of 18th- to 20th-century ceramics from the kilns in the Anatolian town of Kütahya. Similar in style to those of the more celebrated pottery production centre at Iznik, they are almost as highly regarded within Turkey. The other notable permanent collection is Anatolian Weights and Measures, a surprisingly fascinating record of the history of weights and measures from the prehistoric period to the present day, consisting of over 10,000 artefacts.

The Pera Museum also holds regular international exhibitions, with past artists on show including Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, Fernando Botero, Pablo Picasso, and Andy Warhol.

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