Zeid, Fahrelnissa

Composition in Red and Blue, n.d.

Image for Composition in Red and Blue, n.d.

Zeid is one of Turkey’s most prominent abstract artists. Her lithographs in the Grey collection—with their serpentine lines, black dots highlighted with spots of color, and monochromatic fields with abstract references to nature and cityscapes—are typical of works from the apex of her career, when she was participating in the Nouvelle Ecole de Paris and Salon des Réalités Nouvelles exhibitions.

A cosmopolitan figure who exhibited across Europe and the Middle East and maintained studios in Istanbul, London, Paris, Ischia, and Amman, Zeid is best known for her monumental canvases in kaleidoscopic color, which recall stained-glass windows, Byzantine mosaics, and Islamic architecture. Her artistic achievements are sometimes overshadowed, however, by her flamboyant lifestyle and almost mythical persona.

Zeid (née Fahrünissa Şakir) was born into an elite Ottoman family in Büyükada, one of the Princes’ Islands (Kızıl Adalar) off the Asian coast of Istanbul. Her father and uncle were high-ranking Ottoman bureaucrats as well as amateur historians and photographers. Zeid began painting at an early age, inspired primarily by her brother Cevat Şakir Kabaağaçlı, who had suspended his studies in classics at Oxford University to pursue fine arts in Rome. In turn, Zeid encouraged her sister Aliye Berger and niece Füreya Koral to become artists; her son Nejad was also a painter. In 1919, she enrolled at the Academy for Fine Arts for Women, Istanbul. In the late 1920s she took classes at the Académie Ranson in Paris, and from Namık İsmail at the Academy of Fine Arts, Istanbul. Through her two marriages—first to the Turkish writer İzzet Melih Devrim and later to the Iraqi Hashemite prince Zeid al-Hussein—Zeid joined literary, diplomatic, artistic, and political circles and was exposed to a wide spectrum of European culture. With Devrim, she was a model of the modern Turkish woman, socializing with the republic’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk; and with Zeid, she took the title “princess,” enjoyed renown as a diplomat-hostess, and, as an artist, developed an international reputation.

Zeid began exhibiting her work in Turkey in the mid- to late 1940s, both in her own apartment and in Group D’s exhibitions. By the 1950s she moved to Europe and switched to abstraction, making looser, more lyrical paintings featuring her signature motif of faceted planes of whirling color delineated by a thick, calligraphic black line. Later she made light boxes with painted glass and mobile sculptures in resin and animal bones. She also painted portraits of people in her rarefied social milieu. Late in life Zeid moved to Amman, where she taught art.

Medium Lithograph on Paper
Dimensions 30 x 22 in.
Donor Gift of Abby Weed Grey
Credit Line Grey Art Gallery, New York University Art Collection (c) Estate of Fahrelnissa Zeid
Object ID G1975.268


Collection Years: n.d.