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Artists' Index
Encyclopedia of Modern Art and Arab World
موســــوعة الفـن الحديـــث والعالــم العربـــي
Artists' Index

Fahrelnissa Zeid

فخر النساء زيد
Fahrelnissa Zeid
Fahr El-Nissa; Fahr-El-Nissa; Fahrünnisa
​Born on 6 December 1901 in Istanbul, Turkey; died on 5 September 1991 in Amman, Jordan.​
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Fahrelnissa Zeid


Born into a prominent Ottoman family with an avid love for books and art, Fahrelnissa Zeid was exposed since her birth to her brother's brushstrokes and the oil paintings of her mother, Sara Ismet Hanim, on silk clothes hanging on the walls of her home. Zeid began painting in her early childhood and drawing portraits at the age of twelve. Her father, Mohammad Shakir Pasha, was a diplomat, general, photographer and historian. Zeid along with many members of her family were considered models of Ottoman intellectualism.

Zeid was among the first women to attend the Academy of Fine Arts in Istanbul in 1920, where she studied under the Turkish painter Namik Ismail. In 1928, she travelled to Paris and trained in the studio of Stahlbach and Roger Bissière at the Académie Ranson.

Her first marriage was to novelist Izzet Melih Devrim, one of the contributing writers to Servet-i Fünun ("The Wealth of Knowledge"), an avant-garde journal published to inform its readers about European, particularly French, cultural and intellectual movements. Of this union, Faruk (1921 - 1924), Nejad Devrim (1923 - 1995), a future prominent artist, and Shirin Devrim (1926 - 2011), a future actress and director, were born. Visits to various European cities every year with Devrim awakened Zeid's inspiration as she embraced the world of Modern Art. Zeid, together with the thirteen artists who were united under the name of "New École de Paris" held their exhibition in 20th century Paris which welcomed young talents from various countries, and consequently paved the way for different art movements. Paris was the epicenter of both the surrealist and abstract art movements. Such a fertile scene contributed greatly to Zeid's exposure to a mosaic of styles and techniques by modern masters. Equally important, it enabled Zeid to find a spiritual home, acknowledging the multinational aspect of her personality, as she did not consider herself solely the product of the Turkish tradition.

After her divorce in the mid-thirties, Zeid married again in 1934 in Athens to the Hashemite Prince Zeid bin Hussein who was the youngest son of Sharif Hussein bin Ali of Mecca and the Ambassador of Iraq to Ankara then. She gave birth to their son Prince Ra'ad bin Zeid who continues to preserve Fahrelnissa's artistic legacy by maintaining an archive of her works which he makes available to museums, galleries, auction houses, publishers and scholars for exhibitions, acquisitions and researches. As the Iraqi ambassador's wife, Zeid travelled extensively throughout Europe, the US and the Middle East. These visits to several European capitals exposed her to more works of Western artists including those of Joan Miró, Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso.

 Zeid addressed a variety of themes and subjects in her artworks ranging from scenes of everyday life to portraits of family members, relatives and friends. Zeid resorted to exaggerated features, the Byzantine style of iconography, and elongated faces with large rounded eyes which similarly can be found in Egyptian Fayum portraits. Also, in her portrait of her husband Prince Zeid, she goes beyond a mere representation of the visible traits of her subject to reach deeper into his character, and depicts his inner side as a "portrait d'âme," a more authentic and visual unfolding of personality through expressive brushstrokes and vivid colors.

Although Zeid's art is predominantly "abstract," her style is unique and draws on Sufism, the mystical branch of Islam. Indeed, Zeid's works manifest a number of similarities, such as from the "Fauves" (1905 - 1907) with their painterly style and bold use of pure color, Picasso (1881 - 1973), and the "Cubists" with their stress on geometry, and the experimental compositions of Piet Mondrian (1872 - 1944) with his bold black lines. She came to her own unique style in a more subjective manner, and excelled in experimenting with watercolors, composition lithographs, collages, resin sculptures and stained glass. In 1990, in Paris, Zeid's exhibition "Entre L'Orient et l'Occident, Paintures et Dessins: Un Retrospetif" included her experimentation with bones to represent portraits, figures and shapes.

Considering such a prolific body of work, it is no surprise that Zeid influenced the modern art movement in Turkey as well as abroad. Considered to be a pioneer of modern Turkish abstract painting, Zeid joined a circle of young Turkish artists known as the D-Group in 1942, with whom she displayed her works. Later, five years after her second husband died in 1970, Zeid settled in Amman, Jordan, where her son Ra'ad still lifes today. There, Zeid established in her home the Royal Fine Art Institute of Fahrelnissa Zeid, where she taught a group of aspiring artists. Although the Fahrelnissa Art Institute lasted for four years only, her influential legacy marked several renowned artists, including artist Suha Shoman, founder of the 'Darat al Funum: Khalid Shoman Foundation," a visual and cultural center in Amman in Jordan.

Throughout her career, Zeid participated in almost 50 exhibitions in Europe, the United States and the Middle East. Her New York debut came in 1950 when she exhibited a series of large abstract canvases at the Hugo Gallery followed later on by numerous international shows (See Exhibitions below). Zeid's paintings are included in the collections of several museums, including the Museum of Modern Art of Paris, museums of New York, of Cincinnati, of Edinburgh, of Pittsburgh, Museum of Painting and Sculpture of Istanbul, Museum of Hittite Art of Ankara, Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art and private collections.

Fahrelnissa Zeid died in 1991 when she was eighty-nine, and was buried in the Royal Mausoleum, Raghdan Palace in Amman, Jordan. She left behind an immense visual legacy that present a variety of narratives about the development of Modern Art.


​1992​Royal Cultural Center, Amman, Jordan
​1990​Musée de l'Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris, France
​1988​Ataturk Cultural Center, Istanbul, Turkey
_____  ​Ludwig G​allery, Aachen, ​Germany
​1983​Royal Cultural Center, Amman, Jordan 
​1981​Palace of Culture, Amman, Jordan
​1972​Katia Granoff Gallery, Paris, France
​1969​Katia Granoff Gallery, Paris, France
​1964​The Hittite Museum, Ankara, Turkey
_____​Academy of Fine Arts, Istanbul, Turkey 
​1961​Solo exhibition at Galerie Dina Vierny, Paris, France
​1959 ​Ischia, Italy
​1957​Lord's Gallery, London, England
1955 - 1956​American Federation Society of Art, New York, United States of America
​_____​International Exhibitions of Engraving, Cincinnati, United States of America​
​_____​Exhibition of International Graphic Art at Cincinnati Art Museum in Cincinnati, Ohio, United States of America​​
​1956​Palais de Beaux-Arts, Galerie Aujourd'hui, Brussels, Belgium
​_____​Île de l'Homme Errant at Kleber Gallery, Paris, France
​1955​La Hune Library-Gallery, Dina Vierny Gallery with Poliakoff and Pichette, Paris, France 
​_____​Salon des Réalités Nouvelles at Dina Vierny Gallery, Paris, France
​1954​Institute of Contemporary Art, London, England
​_____​Salon des Réalités Nouvelles, Paris, France
​1953  ​Salon des Réalités Nouvelles at Dina Vierny Gallery, Paris, France 
​1952​Craven Gallery, Paris, France
​Kunsthalle (with the painters of Paris), Berne, Switzerland
_____​The Museum of Contemporary Art in Bern, Switzerland  
_____​Gallery 16, Zurich, Switzerland
_____​Art Gallery, Beloit, United States of America​​
_____​L'École de Paris at the Galerie Babylone (organized by Charles Estienne), Paris, France
​​_____​Group Témoignage d'Aujourd'hui at the Palais des Beaux Arts, Brussels, Belgium
_____​Alice in the Wonderland at the Kleber Gallery, Paris, France
​1951​Galerie de Beaune, Paris, France
​_____​Salon des Réalités Nouvelles, Paris, France
​_____​Exhibition of French Painters, Florence, France
​1950​Series of large abstract canvases at the Hugo Gallery, New York, United States of America​
​_____​Academy of Fine Arts, Dublin, Ireland
​​_____​Exhibition of Contemporary Art, Bristol, England
​​_____​International Exhibitions of Women Painters and Engravers, London, England
​1949​Colette Allendy Gallery, Paris, France
​1948 ​Gimpel & Sons, London, England
​1947 ​Saint Georges Gallery, London, England
​1946​House of the People, Smyrna, Georgia, United States of America and Cernuschi Museum, Paris, France
​1945​Private exhibition, Istanbul, Turkey
​1944​First one-woman show included 170 paintings was held, Istanbul Turkey

Private exhi​​bition, Istanbul, Turkey

Awards and Honors

The "Kingdom of Jordon", Italian "Rispoli" and French "Commandeur des Arts et des letters" Decorations​

1981Guest of Honors Salon d'Automne, Festival d'Akaba, Paris, France​


Byzantine, D-Group, expressionism, Fayum portraits, figurative painting, Modern Turkish art, Modern Jordanian art, Modern Turkish abstract painting, New École de Paris, Ottoman Miniature painting, portraiture.


Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation, Darat al-Funun. The Centenary of Fahrelnissa Zeid. Amman, Jordan: Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation, Darat al-Funun, 2000.

Ali, Wijdan. Modern Islamic Art: Development and Continuity. (Florida: University Press of Florida, 1990): 14, 18, 100, 101, 140, 211, 212.

Berktay, Fatmagul; Levent Calikoglu; Zeynep Inankur and Burcu Pehlivanoglu. Dream and Reality: Modern and Contemporary Women Artists from Turkey. Istanbul: Istanbul Modern Sanat Muzesi, 2011.

Eigner, Saeb. Art of the Middle East: Modern and Contemporary Art of the Arab World and Iran. London: Merrell, 2010.

Encyclopædia Britannica. "servet-i fünun." 2014 Encyclopædia Britannica. Accessed 14 January 2014.​

Fahrelnissa Zeid: Portraits et Peintures Abstraites. Exposition du 30 Mai au 24 Juin 1972. Galerie Katia Granoff, Place Beauvau, Paris, 1972.

Germaner, Semra. "The Development of Turkish Modern Art." Accessed June 6, 2010​.

Malt, Carol. Women's Voices in the Middle East Museums: Case Studies in Jordan. New York: Syracuse University Press. 2005.  

Mikdadi, Salwa. "Fahrelnissa Zeid: The Visual legacy of an Extraordinary Life." In Forever Now: Five Anecdotes from the Permanent Collection. Edited by Nada Shabout. (Doha: Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing, 2012), 89-90.

Nashashibi, Salwa Mikdadi, ed. Forces of Change: Artists of the Arab World. Lafayette, California, and Washington, D. C.: International Council for Women in the Arts/National Museum of Women in the Arts, 1994.

New York Times. "Fahrelnissa Zeid Dies; Abstract Painter, 89", September 11, 1991.

Parinaud, André. Fahrelnissa Zeid.  Amman:  The Royal National Jordanian Institute Fahrelnissa Zeid of Fine Arts, 1984.

"​The Centenary of Fahrelnissa Zeid", YouTube video, 4:29, posted by "Darat Al Funun." Accessed September 27, 2013​. 

Yaman, Zeynep Yasa. "An Artist and an Explorer Beyond Ideologies in a Globalized World." In The Centenary of Fahrelnissa Zeid. Amman: Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation's Darat al Funun, 2005.

Further Reading

Devrim, Shirin. A Turkish Tapestry: the Shakirs of Istanbul. London: Quartet Books, 1994.

Fahrelnissa and Nejad: Two Generations of the Rainbow. Exhibition Istanbul Modern: Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts, 2006.

Fahrelnissa Zeid. Exhibition. Erol Kerim Aksoy Foundation. October 19 - December 2, 2000.

Fahrelnissa Zeid: Entre L'Orient et L'Occident: Peintures et Dessins: Un Retrospectif. AIX La Chapelle. AACHEN, Neue Galerie – Sammlung Ludwig. Paris: Institut du Monde Arabe, 1990.

"Hot Spot Istanbul": Turkish art in Zurich – picture feast. Posted by Art Radar Asia, Contemporary art trends and news from Asia and beyond, on August 2, 2013. Accessed September 27, 2013. feast/.

Lloyd, Fran and Siumee H. Keelan. Contemporary Arab Women's Art: Dialogues of the Present, the Work of 18 Arab Women Artists. London: Women's Art Library, 1999.

"Princess Fahrelnissa Zeid." Wikipaintings. Wikipaintings: Visual Art Encyclopedia. Accessed November 22, 2013.​