Sunday, April 19, 2015

Ivan Aivazovsky

The Ninth Wave
0il on canvas
221 × 332 cm
State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

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.

Ivan Aivazovsky (1817-1900) was born into a poor Armenian family, in the ancient Crimean town of Feodosiya, where his father, an Armenian by nationality, had settled at the very beginning of the century. His father was a relatively well-educated man who knew several oriental languages, and who, though a trader of small means, played a significant part in the commercial life of the town. Unfortunately the plague epidemic which hit Feodosiya in 1812 wrecked his business, and when the future artist was born, the family had indeed fallen on hard times.

There is some evidence to suggest that poverty obliged him to work in the cosmopolitan coffee-shops of Feodosiya, alive with the chatter of many different tongues: Italian, Greek, Turkish, Armenian and Tartar. His eager mind soaked up all the colourful sights and sounds which Feodosiya with its mixed population had to offer. He also had a keen musical ear and soon learned to play folk melodies on the violin. It was drawing, however, which most seized his imagination: lacking other materials he drew in charcoal on the whitewashed walls of Feodosiya. These drawings attracted the attention of a town-governor, who helped him to enter a high school and in 1833, the St Petersburg Academy of Arts, where he graduated with the Gold Medal.

He developed an interest in landscape painting, concentrating on marine landscapes, and his  numerous paintings of Mediterranean seascapes won him popularity among art collectors, such as the Russian Czars, the Ottoman Sultan, and among the various nobility in many countries. He traveled widely, painting all across Europe. In the latter half of the 19th century, a trend toward realism is evident in his work, though he never completely abandoned his romantic tendencies.

He produced over six thousand paintings over the course of his long life. Most of his works were made on a longstanding commission from the Imperial Russian Navy Headquarters. He became very wealthy and he used that wealth for the foundation of the first School of Arts and the Art Gallery in his home town of Feodosia.