Ivan Aivazovsky's "The Ninth Wave"

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Yesterday marked the 108th anniversary of the death of the Armenian painter Ivan Aivazovsky. Aivazovsky is most famous for his seascapes, which constitute more than half of his oeuvre. Karly Briullov's "Last Day of Pompeii" (previously featured on 'Feel Art Again') had a significant impact on Aivazovsky, influencing some of his work.

1. As a young boy growing up in Theodosia, Ivan Aivazovsky was known to draw in charcoal on the whitewashed walls throughout the town. Luckily, his graffiti did not land him in trouble, but instead attracted the attention of the town-governor, who then helped Aivazovsky attend high school and later the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts to further develop his talents. Aivazovsky graduated the Academy at age 20,with their highest honor, the gold medal.

2. Aivazovsky honed his skill for seascapes with hands-on experience. In 1836, he participated in training exercises of the Baltic Sea fleet. By a Tsar's edict, he was attached to the Chief Naval Staff "with the title of painter to the Staff and with the right to wear the uniform of the naval ministry." He was so revered by the navy that, in 1846, they marked the tenth anniversary of his artistic career with a special squadron of battleships sent from Sevastopol to congratulate him.

3. In 1840, Aivazovsky traveled to Rome, where he became friendly with Nikolai Gogol. He also received high praise from the Roman critics, newspapers, and even Pope Gregory XVI. The pope purchased Aivazovsky's "Chaos" and hung it in the Vatican where, according to the Art Gazette, "only the pictures of the world's greatest artists are considered worthy of a place."

4. Joseph M.W. Turner, who himself is known for his marine paintings, saw Aivazovsky's "The Bay of Naples on a Moonlit Night" in 1842 and was so struck that he wrote a rhymed poem (in Italian) to Aivazovsky:

In this your picture
I see the moon, all gold and silver.
Reflected in the sea below...
And on the surface of the sea
There plays a breeze which leaves a trail
Of trembling ripples, like a shower
Of fiery sparks or else the gleaming headdress
Of a mighty king!
Forgive me if I err, great artist,
Your picture has entranced me so,
Reality and art are one,
And I am all amazement.
So noble, powerful is the art
That only genius could inspire!

5. Between 1845 and 1890, Aivazovsky traveled to Istanbul 8 times, first upon invitation of Sultan Abdülmecid. He was later commissioned as a court painter by the Sultans Abdülmecid, Abdulaziz, and Abdulhamid. In 1895, Aivazovsky was so devastated by the massacres of Armenians ordered by Sultan Abdulhamid that he threw into the sea the medals he had received from the sultan.

6. Aivazovsky, who believed "to live means to work," was one of the most prolific and successful artists of his time. He painted more than 6,000 works by his death in 1900, and had even started a new canvas, "The Explosion of the Turkish Ship," on the last day of his life.

7. A minor planet, discovered by a Soviet astronomer, Nikolai Stepanovich, in 1977 was named after 3787 Aivazovskij in honor of the artist.

A larger version of "The Ninth Wave" is available here.

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May 6, 2008 - 11:45am
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