Ivan Aivazovsky – The Ninth Wave

Hello to everyone! I’m glad that so many of you have written to me. I just want to express my gratitude and to say I’m thankful that you find my posts interesting. Ivan Aivazovsky was one of my favorite painters, since my childhood. My grandparents had a reproduction of one of his paintings – The Ninth Wave. Every time when I looked at this painting I felt peace and love, so with this post, I hope you’ll fill it too.

The title refers to the nautical tradition that waves grow larger and larger in a series up to the largest wave, the ninth wave, at which point the series starts again. It depicts a sea after a night storm and people facing death attempting to save themselves by clinging to debris from a wrecked ship. The painting has warm tones, which reduce the sea’s apparent menacing overtones and a chance for the people to survive seems plausible. This painting shows the destructive side and beauty of nature.

Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky (Russian: Ива́н Константи́нович Айвазо́вский, Armenian: Հովհաննես Այվազովսկի Hovhannes Ayvazovski;[a] 29 July 1817 – 2 May 1900) was a Russian Romantic painter. He is considered one of the greatest marine artists in history. Baptized as Hovhannes Aivazian, Aivazovsky was born into an Armenian family in the Black Sea port of Feodosia and was mostly based in his native Crimea.

Following his education at the Imperial Academy of Arts, Aivazovsky traveled to Europe and lived briefly in Italy in the early 1840s. He then returned to Russia and was appointed the main painter of the Russian Navy. Aivazovsky had close ties with the military and political elite of the Russian Empire and often attended military maneuvers. He was sponsored by the state and was well-regarded during his lifetime. The saying “worthy of Aivazovsky’s brush”, popularized by Anton Chekhov, was used in Russia for “describing something ineffably lovely.”

One of the most prominent Russian artists of his time, Aivazovsky was also popular outside Russia. He held numerous solo exhibitions in Europe and the United States. During his almost 60-year career, he created around 6,000 paintings, making him one of the most prolific artists of his time. The vast majority of his works are seascapes, but he often depicted battle scenes, Armenian themes, and portraiture. Most of Aivazovsky’s works are kept in Russian, Ukrainian and Armenian museums as well as private collections.

Ivan Aivazovsky was born on 17 July (29 in New Style) 1817 in the city of Feodosia (Theodosia), Crimea, Russian Empire.[15] In the baptismal records of the local St. Sargis Armenian Church, Aivazovsky was listed as Hovhannes, the son of Gevorg Aivazian (Armenian: Գէորգ Այվազեանի որդի Յօհաննեսն). During his study at the Imperial Academy of Arts, he was known in Russian as Ivan Gaivazovsky (Иванъ Гайвазовскій in the pre-1918 spelling). He became known as Aivazovsky since c. 1840, while in Italy. He signed a 1844 letter with the italianized version of his name: Giovani Aivazovsky.

The young Aivazovsky received parochial education at Feodosia’s St. Sargis Armenian Church. He was taught drawing by Jacob Koch, a local architect. Aivazovsky moved to Simferopol with Taurida Governor Alexander Kaznacheyev’s family in 1830 and attended the city’s Russian gymnasium. In 1833, Aivazovsky arrived in the Russian capital, Saint Petersburg, to study at the Imperial Academy of Arts in Maxim Vorobiev’s landscape class. In 1835, he was awarded with a silver medal and appointed assistant to the French painter Philippe Tanneur (fr). In September 1836, Aivazovsky met Russia’s national poet Alexander Pushkin during the latter’s visit to the Academy. In 1837, Aivazovsky joined the battle-painting class of Alexander Sauerweid and participated in Baltic Fleet exercises in the Gulf of Finland. In October 1837, he graduated from the Imperial Academy of Arts with a gold medal, two years earlier than intended. Aivazovsky returned to Feodosia in 1838 and spent two years in his native Crimea. In 1839, he took part in military exercises in the shores of Crimea, where he met Russian admirals Mikhail Lazarev, Pavel Nakhimov and Vladimir Kornilov.

A primarily Romantic painter, Aivazovsky used some Realistic elements. Leek argued that Aivazovsky remained faithful to Romanticism] throughout his life, “even though he oriented his work toward the Realist genre.” His early works are influenced by his Academy of Arts teachers Maxim Vorobiev and Sylvester Shchedrin. Classic painters like Salvator Rosa, Jacob Isaacksz van Ruisdaeland Claude Lorrain contributed to Aivazovsky’s individual process and style. Karl Bryullov, best known for his The Last Day of Pompeii, “played an important part in stimulating Aivazovsky’s own creative development,” according to Bolton. Aivazovsky’s best paintings in the 1840s–1850s used a variety of colors and were both epic and romantic in theme. Newmarch suggested that by the mid-19th century the romantic features in Aivazovsky’’s work became “increasingly pronounced.” She, like most scholars, considered his Ninth Wave his best piece of art and argued that it “seems to mark the transition between fantastic color of his earlier works, and the more truthful vision of the later years.” By the 1870s, his paintings were dominated by delicate colors; and in the last two decades of his life, Aivazovsky created a series of silver-toned seascapes.

The distinct transition in Russian art from Romanticism to Realism in the mid-nineteenth century left Aivazovsky, who would always retain a Romantic style, open to criticism. Proposed reasons for his unwillingness or inability to change began with his location; Feodosia was a remote town in the huge Russian empire, far from Moscow and Saint Petersburg. His mindset and worldview were similarly considered old-fashioned, and did not correspond to the developments in Russian art and culture. Vladimir Stasov only accepted his early works, while Alexandre Benois wrote in his The History of Russian Painting in the 19th Century that despite being Vorobiev’s student, Aivazovsky stood apart from the general development of the Russian landscape school.

Aivazovsky’s later work contained dramatic scenes and was usually done on a larger scale. He depicted “the romantic struggle between man and the elements in the form of the sea (The Rainbow, 1873), and so-called “blue marines” (The Bay of Naples in Early Morning, 1897, Disaster, 1898) and urban landscapes (Moonlit Night on the Bosphorus, 1894).”

Aivazovsky died on 19 April (2 May in New Style) 1900 in Feodosia. In accordance with his wishes, he was buried at the courtyard of St. Sargis Armenian Church. A white marble sarcophagus was made by Italian sculptor L. Biogiolli in 1901. A quote from Movses Khorenatsi’s History of Armenia in Classical Armenian is engraved on his tombstone: Մահկանացու ծնեալ անմահ զիւրն յիշատակ եթող (Mahkanatsu tsneal anmah ziurn yishatak yetogh), which translates: “He was born a mortal, left an immortal legacy” or “Born as a mortal, left the immortal memory of himself”. After his death, his wife Anna led a generally secluded life and died on July 25, 1944. She was buried next to Aivazovsky.