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Ivan Aivazovsky • Painting, 1873, 102×132 cm
About the artwork
Art form: Painting
Subject and objects: Marina
Style of art: Romanticism
Technique: Oil
Materials: Canvas
Date of creation: 1873
Size: 102×132 cm
Artwork in selections: 89 selections

Description of the artwork «Rainbow»

Originally, Aivazovsky planned his “Rainbow” as another storm, therefore it should have been named accordingly. Actually, he painted a similar “Storm” a year earlier.
Aivazovsky had plenty of storm images, but he had not yet painted such a picture, and no one had. Pavel Tretyakov was friends with Aivazovsky, but he acquired his works very, very selectively: “...give me your magic water so that it would fully convey your incomparable talent. Forgive me for writing to you, but I really want to have your picture in my collection as soon as possible.” Aivazovsky’s “Rainbow” became such water, and Tretyakov bought it almost immediately after the exhibition at the Imperial Academy of Arts.

It seems that we have a standard subject matter by Ivan Konstantinovich: a severe storm, a boat with people, which seems like a nutshell on the waves. You can observe the figures more closely. The boat rushes in the furious sea, the coast is ahead, which can be salvation, and maybe death if the boat is smashed on the protruding rocks. There is a lookout at the stern, along with a man with an oar, ready to turn at the first word. Well, or try to turn, it is clearly not the oar that controls everything here, but the sea itself. There are figures lying low on bottom of the boat, trying to stay in it. And one of them suddenly waves his hat — why would that be? And where is the rainbow? It seems that the man with the hat saw it. The rainbow that reigned in the sky after the Flood meant the blessing and forgiveness of God. A rainbow that appears over the sea in bad weather means the end of the storm. They only have to hold out for a few minutes, salvation is close.

The subject of Aivazovsky’s “Rainbow” painting is quite standard, but the performance is virtuoso. Art critic Nikolai Barsamov believes that this canvas is an innovation not only for the artist himself, but also a new word in the general development of Russian painting art. If you compare it with previous storms (1, 2, 3), this picture will seem pale, strangely light.

Instead of the usual bright colours, we see the subtlest shades of blue, green, pink and purple. The rainbow itself in Aivazovsky’s painting is barely noticeable, transparent (look carefully at the left edge of the canvas). Although the rainbow as a natural phenomenon is a very beautiful subject, therefore the painter could express much more decorativeness. But not here, not this time. Why do we see everything, as if through a veil of water? Why is the image so bright and the storm so “non-decorative”? Because the ruthless artist throws the viewer into the epicentre of the storm, we observe what is happening from the inside, and do not look at the hurricane from the outside. This is the reason for the shining soft colour, the “pearliness” of the image and the whirlpool, into which the viewer is drawn at first sight. It’s not even about sensitivity of perception, in this case everything is decided for us, it is our eyes that are covered with salt spray, it is we who take off with the boat among the furious, raging and at the same time jubilant waves.

Usually Ivan Konstantinovich began painting his pictures from the sky, and he always depicted it in one go. It is not clear how Aivazovsky painted the “Rainbow”, because the water and heavenly elements are merged here, and the horizon is absent.
As a rule, the artist placed his works in gilded frames. Aivazovsky ordered a black frame for the “Rainbow” painting. Why? The golden colour is not appropriate here, it would merge with the radiance of the picture itself. And his choice preserved the maximum effect: from the blackness of the frame, from the darkness of the storm, a rainbow flares up. The frame contrasts with the colour of this storm, which, despite the grandiose natural phenomenon, is not about calamity, but about hope. The symbol of hope, a bird, flies to the shore. The symbol of salvation, a rainbow, spreads over the still stormy sky. The power and ecstasy of this power does not require golden frames, let there be a simple frame so that the rainbow shines brighter.

Marina Matskevich, head of the children’s aesthetic development sector at the Tretyakov Gallery, noted that it was very effective to conduct art therapy classes with children at this painting. In fact, even the feelings it evokes, while their spectrum is extremely diverse, from horror to euphoria, can tell a lot about the state of the viewer. What do you see when you look at the “Rainbow” painting by Ivan Aivazovsky? What is you breathtaking feeling, horror or unbridled glee?

Author: Aliona Esaulova