Aliye Berger: The First Engraving Artist of Turkey

Who is Aliye Berger? 

Aliye Berger, born in Istanbul in 1903, is a well-known painter and the first engraving artist of Turkey. As a family member of many great artists, she had always been interested in art and creation. Her family gave great importance to education; therefore, she finished her education in the most prestigious schools of Istanbul.

Her sister Fahrelnisa Zeid was also a famous painter; his brother Cevat Sakir Kabaagacli, who is mostly known as “the Fisherman of Halicarnassus,” was an accomplished writer. Ambitious about all art forms, she started to take violin lessons from the Hungarian violinist Karl Berger in 1924. Their inspiring love story took a dramatic turn in 1974, six months after their marriage. With a sudden heart attack, Aliye Berger lost her eternal love, her biggest passion. She suffered from severe depression and tried to take her own life. Consequently, her sister wanted her to move to London to live with her.

It was the milestone of Aliye Berger’s art life. She started to attend the sculpture and engraving workshops of John Buckland-Wright, a great mentor and inspiration to Berger.  While trying to fill the void caused by the loss of her beloved husband, she started to create expressionist engravings and paintings. Reflecting on her mind and soul, which was full of grief, loneliness, depression, and longing, she created masterpieces. 

She was inspired by her own life rather than other artists, subjects, or movements. She always believed that real beauty is not something hidden somewhere but to be searched. Instead, she saw life as the ultimate beauty and the biggest inspiration. It is the reason she heavily used daily life scenes in her work. 

Essential Works of Aliye Berger

Aliye Berger was dedicated to her work and spend four productive years in London. She used extraordinary materials such as sandpaper, butcher paper, and cheesecloth in her works. In 1951, Aliye returned to Istanbul with about 150 original artworks, including engravings and paintings. After her first exhibition, she managed to make a great impression in the art society. In 1954, she won a prestigious international award that led her to become a shining star and an inspiration to fellow and upcoming artists. Let us take a more in-depth look at some of her well-known masterpieces.

Sun Rising – 1954

Sun Rising, 1954

The famous oil painting of Aliye Berger, which brought her to great success and recognition, is an expressionist masterpiece. Resembling a Van Gogh painting using vivid colors intertwining, the painting depicts a scene where the sun, sea, and soil come together. As mentioned previously, Ali-ye Berger enjoyed including real life scenes in her paintings. The sponge divers that we can see on the right side of the painting are a great example. The Sun Rising won the prize as the best oil painting in the Business and Production competition organized by Yapı Kredi Bank for the Congress of the Critics Association in 1954. A year later, the painting won second place in the Second Tehran Biennial. 

Untitled Dervishes – 1960

Dervishes, 1960

In addition to her bewitching paintings and engravings, Aliye Berger is also a successful printmaker. In Untitled Dervishes, she carries a traditional spiritual ceremony to the paper. The Whirling Dervishes is a ceremony that is performed by the followers of the famous spiritualist Rumi. In the ceremony, there are multiple performers with different missions. One person sits and manages the ceremony, while a couple of dervishes whirl in the center. Berger depicts the scene on a butcher paper by using the etching on the paper method. Today, the masterpiece is open for visiting in the Metropolitan Museum of New York.

Self Portrait

Self Portrait by Aliye Berger

Aliye Berger made a great name as the pioneer engraver of Turkey. One of her most well-known works is the Self Portrait, which is a matchless engraving masterpiece. Carved on a flat surface, we see the face of Aliye Berger. With exquisite detailing, we can easily read the feelings taking over her soul, like grief, loss, and melancholy. Even with no color, she manages to transfer her sentiments with her deep, meaningful gaze. The shadows and lines covering her tired face reveal her restless heart. The engraving is in the Istanbul Modern Museum open for the viewers.

Proving the power of simplicity in all her artworks, Aliye Berger had become an important figure in Turkish art history. With her fantastic masterpieces, she had become a great inspiration and a sensational pioneer. On 24 December 2020, Google commemorated the artist and celebrated her 117th birthday with a meaningful doodle. She was, and always will be, one of the most influential artists of Turkey.

Aliye Berger’s Doodle of Google


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