The Ottoman Exhibition itself occupies a narrow part of sector XIII of the Palais du Champ de Mars, between the doors of Suffren and Desaix. At the time of its opening, this exhibition offered a seemingly disordered but very picturesque aspect.
Today, it is no longer so; everything is in the desired order, or thereabouts. The pottery is with the pottery, the furniture with the furniture, and so on with the exception of the carpets and embroidery, which are still to be found everywhere, and of which it has only been possible to display about a third; and the saddlery, which it was thought necessary to place in the machinery gallery, in order to conceal an unfortunate void.
Starting from the central garden, we approach the Ottoman exhibition, not from the most artistic side, but at least from the side of the works of art. Here are the architectural projects and drawings, among which the plans for the Turkish installation of the Palace and the buildings in the Park stand out. Among the many studies and preliminary projects that Messrs Barborini, Montani and Bontcha drew by order of the Ministry of Trade, Agriculture and Public Works, the real plans stand out, the ones that were definitively adopted by the Imperial Ottoman Commission and that its architect, Mr Léon Parvillée, executed.
There is also a project for a viaduct, by Mr. Levai, engineer of the municipality of the sixth circle of Constantinople, which gives a very good idea of the embellishments already carried out to a great extent in Pera and Galata, thanks to the enlightened initiative of His Excellency Server Effendi, president of the municipal council.
Next comes the History of Work gallery, which shows Syria in ancient times, Byzantium under the Greek emperors, and Brousse in its heyday as the capital of the Mehmed I, Murads and Bayezids. For the first, there are bas-reliefs and a cuneiform inscription, of which the exhibitor Abdullab Bey has made a translation into Latin; for the second, five drawings of monuments: present state and projected restorations, by Dr. Dethier, director of the Austrian school of Pera; for the third, a collection of M. Léon Parvillée: maiolica; bindings; fragments of manuscripts, etc., made even more complete by the exhibitor's own photographs.
In the painting and sculpture gallery, Turkey has little to offer; it is not in this area that it shines, as we know. However, one has the right to make reservations for the future, because three paintings: Halt of the Tchinganés; Zeibek on the lookout; Death of the Zeibek, treated by Hamdi Bey with a rare independence and sincerity; a beautiful portrait of H. M. I. Sultan Abdul Aziz, masterly drawn in black pencil by Ahmed A'ali Effendi, seem to offer serious guarantees.
At the present time, and in spite of alleged progress, fortunately partial, which amounts to decadence, true Turkish art still resides in certain manufactured products: carpets, embroidery, needlework, pottery, earthenware, saddlery, and bookbinding; just as in the days when European industry borrowed from the Orient the great formulas that it believes it is giving back to it today by teaching it small processes.
See the carpets of A'ali Effendi of Smyrna; see those which, throughout the Ottoman Empire, personal initiative executes according to tradition, on the ancient looms formed of four barely squared stakes. Compare them to those which, in the country itself, are made in large factories, according to modern processes. Compare them especially to this carpet made in Koulé, on the border of which is woven the word 'perfected'.
What does the improvement consist of? Don't you see that the old designs, so naive, so original, of such pure and characteristic taste, have been replaced by ugly little castles framed with rose wreaths, as on the dessert plates of low-class restaurateurs? For the dyeing of wools, these brilliant colours were used, it is true, but they were false, garish, without solidity, discovered in recent times. Short wool was used to form the warp of carpets.
Hafyz Sadyk Effendi, a manufacturer of opaque porcelain in Eyoub, finds it profitable to imitate European products. If we were to criticise him for having chosen these heavy and impasto profiles, these vulgar designs, while he had before his eyes the pure and elegant contours, the delicate and angelic ornaments of the Roustehouk and Jeddah potteries, he would not fail to reply that his tableware sells better because it has the franka. And indeed he sells every year, usual pottery for a sum double that which represents the turnover of all the master manufacturers of Constantinople combined.
In the small salon between the liberal arts and furniture galleries, a large display case contains eighteen popular costumes on mannequins.
Unfortunately, for the costumes as for the rest of the Turkish products, there is not enough room. If, instead of eighteen mannequins, arranged with great difficulty around this showcase, to the detriment of the overall view of the Ottoman sector, the commission had been able to place as many as it has complete costumes, that is to say nearly a hundred, would this not have made a beautiful exhibition? As fine, perhaps, as that of Sweden, which won a gold medal, while Turkey only obtained a silver one, and even then it was for its military costumes, the least interesting part of its exhibition in class "2, which was much more remarkable from the point of view of the worker's clothing.
It is true that the needlework, better placed to be appreciated, gave rise to a sort of compensation; Turkey was awarded a gold medal for the whole of its oya, without prejudice to some silver and bronze medals, and several honourable mentions, distributed here and there to exhibitors in the same class: lace, tulle, embroidery and trimmings.
Oya is a type of needlework that is done without a loom, at the fingertips, and which imitates the flower in a completely artistic way, without trompe l'oeil. It is both delicate and large, small in size and large in execution, like a Meissonnier painting. It is used as fine trimmings, to line ladies' clothes and headdresses, everyone wanted to buy it, especially lace makers; did they see it as something to study?
In any case, the Turkish industry was appreciated; less, however, by the jury than by the public; it had and still has a success in sales, even for some of its products which may seem expensive. One has bought babouches and simple satin boots for 100 and 200 francs, the same, plus the kindness, the proud turn of mind and the solidity, that one hesitates to pay 20 or 30 francs on the boulevard. This does not prevent the cobblers from maintaining that these shoes are very badly made and that if they can be used for anything, it is not for walking. When we tell them that in Constantinople, where bitumen and asphalt, hardly known by name, are disadvantageously replaced by sharp pebbles, a pair of yellow slippers lasts a year, they look at us with a gloomy, gloomy eye, they are gone; it seems as if we are the winter and they are the swallow.
Next to the slippers, you have to admire the weapons. This too is absolutely useless, and it is very eher, because the blades and sometimes the scabbards are made of Damascus steel, which is poorly imitated in Europe, like everything that comes from the East; it is enough to be fair to agree. Let us admit, moreover, that in the East, it is in a way that leaves almost everything to be desired, that one imitates what comes from Europe. Each country has its own genius; the trouble is that instead of improving, as far as possible, and exchanging what is good in each country, progress consists either in getting into the skin of others or in trying to force them into one's own skin.
We see no harm in the fact that the West has borrowed from Turkey, among other things, the howitzer, invented at the siege of Constantinople by Mohammed II; the Schrapnel shell, used by the Turks as early as 1522; rifled guns, known from time immemorial in the East; and the revolver...
Yes, the revolver; there is a revolver with a wick: at the bottom of the trophy of weapons which radiates on the wall of the left-hand side, at the corner of the gallery of the furniture, one sees an old rusty weapon, whose five shots, by means of a revolving mechanism, come one after the other to present themselves to the lower orifice of the single barrel which gives passage to the bullets. This invention of an Arab was given to the exhibitor, A'ali Yaver Pasha, by the sovereign imam of the country of Kokyan, in whose treasury it had been for a hundred years.
Was it for the sake of contrast that children's cradles were placed under a panoply? Or was it to imply the commonplace that strength must protect weakness? This has been said for a long time.
Here, in this showcase, in the middle of the room, are beautiful pieces of silverware from Monastir, Andrinople, Trebizond, Yanina, Baghdad, Mosul, Damascus and Tripoli. The public admires these masterpieces of filigree as we do; but can we never disabuse them of their admiration for the zarf, which is a convenient and elegant support for the small cups known as fildjans, in which coffee is served in the East? Why is he so keen to make impossible egg cups out of them?
It is a fantasy that we should perhaps respect; we would thus be imitating the complacent Turks, whom we have heard, in Constantinople itself, call a sofa by the name of divan, which means room, so as not to upset certain people who are misinformed by certain dictionaries.
Without moaning too much about this error, let us go further and visit the next room, where we will find two important collections, one of insects, shells, and petrifications of the Bosphorus, by Abdullah Bey; the other of medical and pharmaceutical materials, by Fayk Bey, director of the central civil and military pharmacy of the Ottoman Empire, and offered by him to the Faculty of Medicine of Paris. Both of these collections were awarded the gold medal.
Around these two showcases, so worthy of interest, are objects less brilliant, it is true, than all the carpets, jewels, and magnificent costumes that adorn the previous rooms. Here, however, are the riches of Turkey: wood, minerals and metals, pink marble from Panderma, exhibited by Mr. Groppler; building materials, coal, brown coal, tanning and dyeing materials; textile materials: silks, wools, hemp, linens, cottons, waxes, tobacco, honeys, mineral waters, furs; products of all kinds from the soil and subsoil; and finally, grains.
It is only here, we believe, that we can speak of progress and not in relation to industries which can only gain by going backwards, by reviving traditions which are in danger of disappearing, because the workers' guilds, where they are carefully preserved, are in decadence, and it would be urgent to raise and consolidate them.
The main progress to be introduced in Turkey, and so to speak, the only one, is the improvement of roads where they exist and their creation everywhere else. All the other improvements: the cultivation of forests; the search for and regular exploitation of mines; the wider production of silk and cotton; the adoption of better methods and instruments; all these will follow necessarily from this first benefit, the necessity of which is absolute.
So as not to end in too solemn a manner, let us pass by the wooden ploughs, the grain-threshing machines, so naively primitive, with the flints with which they are armed from below to break the ear of corn, as the horse that drags them walks around Doing his rider, standing like a triumphant on the ancient chariot; Let us pass in front of the wine pyramids of Cyprus, Samos, Smyrna, Tenedos; let us cross the African gate, plugging our ears as tightly as possible, not in imitation of the prudent Ulysses, to avoid being seduced by the melodious song of the sirens, alas! for a quite different reason, let us pass, and above all, let us pass quickly!
Let's take a few steps under the covered walkway, outside. Between a Chinese shop and the Romanian café, we will find the Turkish café-restaurant, run by Pierre Asker, from Constantinople. Let's go in without worrying too much about the corner of Africa and its opposite, we will see the Ottoman costumes no longer on mannequins, as in the gallery, but worn by Greek, Armenian, Bulgarian boys, who will serve us, with water from Karakoulak, clear as diamond, the real mastic of Chio, accompanied by the chibouk with the long jasmine pipe; we will think we are on the Bosporus.
To complete the illusion, we will be able to taste the cuisine, which is perfect. Even in Islambol, one cannot eat kebab, dolma, pilaf, better than at Pierre Asker's; and if you doubt it, know that he himself served these national dishes on the Imperial table, at the Élysée Palace.