Simon Hagopian 1852-1921
Ottoman Armenian Orientalist Artist of Constantinople.
Rereading Teotig’s Biography of Simon Hagopian (1857-1921)
A single undated, hand-written, sheet of paper in a brown envelope stored in a blue folder comprises the National Gallery of Armenia Archive’s entire holdings on the Ottoman Armenian artist Simon Hagopian (1857-1921). On one side, the unnamed scribbler has more or less copied – without being faithful to the original – the just over one page of biographical data (240 words) originally published in Teotig’s 1912 Everyone’s Almanac. At the end, a note records that a painting entitled Turkish Hamals on the Bridge at Karaköy was reproduced alongside the text in the original publication. A reproduction of the painting – a vital component of Teotig’s biography of the artist – is not held on file. Also absent is a photographic portrait of Hagopian that accompanies the original 1912 text. This brief yet dense biography has become the primary source of information on this once respected, but now mostly forgotten, artist’s life and work. Published during Hagopian’s lifetime, it forms the source text and basis of all subsequent mentions of this artist, uncritically reproduced, often verbatim or with little amendment, by the handful of art historians and others who have either listed him or, on the rare occasion, considered his work and place in art history.
A central concern of these Realists was the condition of migrant workers from Ottoman Armenia, the bantoukhds, present in the imperial capital, where many worked as hamals. Until the massacres of 1896 most hamals in Constantinople were Armenians, mainly from the plain of Moush and regions around Lake Van. For ages past they migrated to the city, actors in complex migration chains. They tended to be bekiars, often living in groups of co-villagers in hans in the poorest parts of the city spending a season or some years in Constantinople before returning home. Frugal in their habits, they sent remittances back to their families. Representations of these men dominated much of the literature of the time. The majority of the author Melkon Gurdjian’s (1859-1915) œuvre is identified with the chronicling of the life of the bantoukhd. Published between 1889 and 1892 under the nom de plume Hrant, Etmekjian singles out his series of ‘letters’ on the life of provincial migrants, as providing an unparalleled authenticity to literary Realism.
Vazken Khatchig Davidian
Birkbeck College, University of London
Bibliothèque Nubar de l’UGAB