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Yeni Camii and The Port of İstanbul

Jean-Baptiste Hilair [Hilaire]

Watercolor on paper, 40.5 x 57.5 cm
1789

A student of Jean-Baptiste Leprince, French artist Jean-Baptiste Hilair(1753, Audun-le-Tiche – after 1822, Paris)  painted landscapes with figures, portraits, depictions of local figures and genre scenes. Recognized mostly for his drawings and watercolors, Hilaire’s works clearly manifest the influence of his teacher. Hilaire accompanied the French Ambassador Comte (Count) Choiseul-Gouffier on his trip to the Aegean in 1776. In Voyagé Pittoresque de la Gréce, the first edition of which was released in 1782 after this extensive journey, the majority of the engravings are reproduced from Hilaire’s paintings. When Choiseul- Gouffier was appointed as ambassador to İstanbul, Hilaire accompanied him to the city. Many of the engravings in Tableau Général de l'Empire Othoman by Ignatius Mouradja d’Ohsson, the dragoman of the Swedish Embassy and private secretary of King Gustav III, are also based on Hilaire’s work. The artist participated Salon de la Jeunesse in 1780 and Salon de la Correspondance in 1782 with his landscape depicting eastern figures among architectural ruins. 

As one might conclude from the note the artist inscribed in the lower section of the painting, this work reveals the loading of the antiques collected by French Ambassador Choiseul-Gouffier on boat, to be shipped to France. Choiseul-Gouffier, who, together with Hilair, arrived in the Ottoman Empire for the first time in 1776 to map the Aegean, extensively used Hilair’s paintings in his book, Voyagé Pittoresque de la Gréce. This collaboration between artist and the diplomat, who had a penchant for Antiquity, persevered after Choiseul-Gouffier was appointed as ambassador to İstanbul in 1784. 

In the lower left section of the painting, one can see the antiques being transported to caiques. Despite the fact that the painting is the depiction of a particular event, the view of the Port before the city silhouette defined by monumental buildings, as well as the routine of daily life also come to the fore. The views of the Golden Horn and the Port, which include local figures smoking pipes, chatting, waiting to embark the boat, are compositions that frequently appear in Hilair’s paintings of İstanbul.