Odilkhon Makhnmudov. Painting fragment

Fergana Valley is one of unique regions in our country known for its highly developed traditions of arts and crafts. A special place is taken by the art of decorative painting. Unique architectural monuments in Kokand, Margilan, Chust, Namangan, Quva, Altyaryk, Shakhrikhan and Rishtan continue to amaze with the richness of their multicoloured designs that can make even the most structurally unpretentious buildings look like luxury palaces.

Fergana land is home to a whole dynasty of gifted ornamental artists, or nakkosh, the Narkuzievs-Makhmudovs. The dynasty has continued for more than three hundred years: all men in the family were hereditary ornamental artists, or sirchi, as the profession is called in the Valley. Among them are some renowned masters: great grandfather usto Nurmat, grandfather usto Narmukhamed Kuzybai, father Saeedmakhmud Narkuziev, and his sons Saeedakhmad and Saeedumar Makhmudovs. The double name appeared due to the fact that in early 20th century children’s last name was derived from their father’s given name. Presumably, usto Nurmat participated in the painting of the famous Jami Mosque in Kokand that was built in the 18th century. His son Narmukhamed Nurmatov took part in decorating the mansions of Princes Romanov and Polovtsev in Tashkent.

Saeedmakhmud Narkuziev was born in 1883 in Kokand. His father, when looking for a job, always brought his son with him, and from the age of twelve the boy worked alongside the adults. For seven years Saeedmakhmud worked as apprentice before he was granted permission for independent work. The day young Narkuziev designed a composition for a fireplace in the home of an Andijan rich-man, usto Mukhammad Soli said to him, «My lad, today you have laid your own brick in the building called ornamental painting — the art we inherited from our forefathers. Your life-path is going to be great and joyous» (1).

Usto Saeed Akhmad Makhmudov.  Painting fragment

Three years later Saeed began to substitute his father in creating complicated ornaments. Compositional solutions in his designs were so complex and stunningly beautiful that everyone unanimously recognized usto Saeed’s compositions to be the model for many masters of that time. Today, paintings created by Saeedmakhmud Narkuziev can be found in Andijan, Namangan, Osh, Jambul and Tashkent (the Fergana Hall in the Navoi Opera and Ballet Theatre; he was invited to participate in the project as lead master of architectural painting representing Fergana school). Narkuziev took part in the decoration of Baratkhoji (Jalalabad), Mulla Kudrat (Osh), Mamajon Mingboshi (Khojobod) and Matkosim Olim (Butakora) mosques.

Since 1930s usto Saeedmakhmud was assisted by his sons Saeedumar and Saeedakhmad, and later on — by his grandson Saeedusmon. They painted the interiors of more than twenty cultural centres in Fergana Valley. Indeed, the words of his teacher turned out to be prophetic — Saeedmakhmud Narkuziev, with his remarkable talent of a true artist, became one of the famous master-craftsmen of Uzbekistan.

Today, numerous sketches and drafts created by Saeedmakhmud Narkuziev are the pride of museums in Kokand, Fergana, Andijan and Tashkent (State Fine Arts Museum of Uzbekistan). The total number of sketches exceeds one thousand, and every one of them is an original composition in colour. In a folklore museum in Kokand one of the halls is allocated to the art of Saeedmakhmud Narkuziev and his sons, Saeedakhmad and Saeedumar Makhmudovs. The museum exposition is built around the materials of an exhibition called «The Kokand School of Ornamental Painting» dedicated to the Narkuzievs-Makhmudovs artistic dynasty. Of particular interest for museum funds are easel panels created on canvas, on which the masters create pieces in the style of traditional painting.

Usto Saeed Akhmad Makhmudov. Painting fragment

In 1946 Narkuziev took part in decorating the interiors of the Navoi Theatre in Tashkent; according to the architect’s concept, the architectural decorum of its halls was to represent all art schools of Uzbekistan. S. Polupanov, the architect, assigned to the Kokand master the most challenging tasks. Specifically, the sketch for the embroidery on the velvet curtain was created by Narkuziev and embroidered in gold by women-masters from Bukhara. Unfortunately, the master could not complete his work in the theatre due to ill health. Yet over the years of his activity he had accomplished a lot: he participated in the 1954 National exhibition, as well as in republican and regional folk and applied arts exhibitions. In 1959 Moscow hosted an exhibition dedicated to the decade of Uzbek literature and art, where three panels by Narkuziev were also displayed.

It should be noted that the technique of making design sketches and the methods of applying them to the surface, which were employed by usto Saeed, were completely different from those of other masters. He painted the ornament on the wall or ceiling free-hand, without using a stencil. Saeedmakhmud Narkuziev’s personal archive contains dozens of original compositions successfully designed by the master who used predominantly mineral pigments.

With the appearance of oil paints, gouache and tempera, natural pigments gradually went out of use.

Many years of practice enabled the master to develop a deeper understanding of specificities of architectural painting. The established style of Narkuziev as ornamental artist is distinguished by the absence of too small details, by organic design and the inclusion of epigraphic ornament. This has to be noted specifically, as during soviet years traditional epigraphy was not welcome. Still, Narkuziev did not abandon the tradition of introducing epigraphic ornament into his painting. These were greetings, the words of well-wishing to guests, edifications for young people, distich of oriental poets.

Y. Khalaminskiy, a renowned art historian and expert in Central Asian art, describes his impression from Narkuziev’s work: «In front of us, shining with all colours, was the fabulously beautiful wing of a Fire-Bird. Paintings spread over corridors, covered the ceilings of halls and offices, and filled even poorly-lit and dull rooms with silver, pink-blue, pistachio-green and golden shine. At first, the flowery ligature of the pattern captivates you, and only after some time you began to discern a streamlined regularity, logical conditionality and connection of all elements in it. All this made the painting appear as if it was a harmonious and absolutely precise musical piece in all its parts.» (2, pp. 27-28)

The Narkuzievs-Makhmudovs dynasty has substantially contributed to the restoration of architectural monuments. They restored a grand throne-room and terrace paintings in the palace of Khudoyarkhan in Kokand. Restoration of paintings created in the 19th century is one of the challenging issues facing contemporary restorers. Both the sons and apprentices of Narkuziev proved to be specialists of high culture in this business. Art historian S. M. Krukovskaya saw the palace paintings before and after restoration: «I had an impression that presently the ceilings of the palace chambers, in colour brightness and diversity of colour combination, are different from those I saw during my first visits to Kokand. Nevertheless, the palace ceilings produce an indelible impression. Eye-catching are the ceilings of the main halls with their deep khauzak, stalactite and painted passages from roof to walls rich in friezes.» (3, p. 141). Krukovskaya and Khalaminskiy unanimously associated ornamental painting with beautiful music, which, in our view, is a very appropriate comparison. The colour range of paints can only be compared to the diversity of musical variations.

The art of Narkuziev’s son Saeedumar Makhmudov, a wonderful nakkosh of Fergana art school, was distinct in the fact that he gravitated toward the style of the Tashkent school. He painted landscapes confined in ornamental frames, created still-life and genre paintings. This is exemplified by paintings in his own house and the interior design of a former Toshkent Guzar culture centre in Uchkuprik (presently the conference hall of school No.18), painted in 1937. This piece wrought by the Kokand sirchi master is a unique monument of decorative and applied art of Uzbekistan, being a vivid example of art culture in the first half of the 20th century. In general, landscapes painted by Makhmudov in 1930s clearly show the influence of European art school.

Another Narkuziev’s son, Saeedakhmad Makhmudov, is also his worthy student. He made history as restorer and was primarily noted for his participation in the restoration of Jami Mosque built in the 18th century. Saeedakhmad Makhmudov restored the halls of the Khudoyarkhan palace in Kokand — the grand throne-room, the small throne-room and the reception hall of Atabek-naeeb. In 1994 the darvoza-khona of the palace was restored, and this work was performed by Makhmudov without pay, as a gift to his hometown. Another building restored by Makhmudov was the mansion of the Grand Duke Romanov in Tashkent, where Makhmudov’s grandfather usto Narkuzi once painted its eastern halls.

Saeedakhmad Makhmudov had two sons, Saeedusmon and Saeedolim, who also were trained as ornamental artists. Unfortunately, Saeedusmon passed away prematurely, and Saeedolim moved away from the occupation of his father. Thus the dynasty of artists ceased to exist, but Saeedakhmad Makhmudov who had trained students for more than 25 years, left many followers who continue his work. The art of the Narkuzievs-Makhmudovs dynasty whose members created pieces in which «shines the beauty of life itself», as Alisher Navoi put it, spans across past, present and future.

1. Буронов Б. Куконлик уста наккош// Узбекистон маданияти, 1957, 30 января.
2. Халаминский Ю. Дорогами легенд. М., 1967.
3. Круковская С. М. Встречи с Кокандом. Ташкент, 1977.

Khalima Rafikova