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Amidst the waves. 20 fascinating facts about Ivan Aivazovsky, the artist most loved by the Russians

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A painter of seascapes, Ivan Aivazovsky (1817 -1900) is the most famous Russian artist. During his life, he had the Russian Tsar, the Turkish Sultan, the Pope and the British genius William Turner among his admirers. In Russia, his exhibitions still gather the queues.
Let Arthive tell you what remarkable person he was.
1. Aivazovsky was an avid painter. He is an author of 6 000 paintings. During his lifetime, the artist had 120 personal exhibitions in Russia and abroad. He was only 26 years old when his paintings were shown at the Louvre.

2. Aivazovsky inspired the acknowledged British master of marine paintings William Turner to write a poem dedicated to his Russian colleague.
"..But even that moon is always beneath thee
Oh Master most high,
Oh forgive thou me
If even this master was frightened for a moment
Oh, noble moment, by art betrayed…
And how may one not delight in thee,
Oh thou young boy, but forgive thou me,
If I shall bend my white head
Before thy art divine
Thy bliss-wrought genius…"

Aivazovsky`s painting The Bay of Naples at Moonlit Night made a lasting impression on Turner.
3. Aivazovsky continues to amaze the audience with the realistic waves and lunar paths. Though he did not like to work in plein air. The artist considered it impossible to portray from life the movement of the elements, the breath of the sea, the blaze of lightnings. Aivazovsky painted the seascapes in his studio relying on the memory and imagination.
4. "Among the Waves" is the biggest painting of Aivazovsky. It is measured 282×425cm. It took only ten days for the artist to paint it. Aivazovsky was 80 years old when he created this painting.

5. Aivazovsky painted "Creation of the World" in one day. It took him just nine hours! It measures 195×236 cm.
Ivan Aivazovsky. Among the waves
Ivan Aivazovsky. The creation of the world
  • Ivan Aivazovsky. Among the Waves. 1898
  • Ivan Aivazovsky. Creation of the World. 1864
7. Aivazovsky`s popularity at home was unprecedented. In 1850, Nicholas I, the Emperor of Russia, acquired 'The Ninth Wave' painted by the 33-year-old artist. During the boat journey with the artist, standing on the deck, the Emperor said, "Aivazovsky! I’m the king of the earth, and you are the king of the sea!" Nicholas I used to ask the people close to him whether they were familiar with the works of Aivazovsky and whether they had any of them. Those wishing to please the Tsar hurried away to buy pieces by Aivazovsky for their mansions.

Ivan Aivazovsky. Chaos. The creation of the world

6. And this seascape entitled "Chaos: Creation of the World" was painted in 1841. At that time, Aivazovsky lived in Italy (Russian artists had a habit to travel to Italy in search of inspiration and beautiful views then). The rumors of the Russian artist who had completed an incredible picture with a scene of the birth of the world from chaos reached Pope Gregory XVI. The artist was invited to the Vatican. The Pope saw the canvas and was anxious to buy it. The artist denied the fee and passed the painting to the Pope as a gift. In return, Pope Gregory XVI honoured Ivan Aivazovsky with the Gold Medal.

Ivan Aivazovsky. The ninth wave
The ninth wave
1850, 221×332 cm
8. Emperor Nicholas I was terribly upset when at the height of his fame, Aivazosky decided to leave St. Petersburg for his tiny home town of Feodosia on the Black sea, Crimea. But the artist was adamant, so he left and lived in the province until the end of his days.

He always considered Feodosia being his home despite he visited Berlin, Vienna, Trieste, Dresden, Rome, Istanbul and many other cities and countries and could afford to live anywhere. Aivazovsky promoted the welfare of his homeland. His influence on Feodosia’s life was huge. The painter established an art school, a library, a fountain, a concert hall and a picture gallery in Feodosia.
9. In Feodosia Aivazovsky was not bored. Countless collectors, artists and writers made their pilgrimage to his residence. The housemaster loved to party and knew how to do that. Dinner menu were ordered at the printers, and the dishes were named after the artist`s paintings. Here’s what they served: 'Black sea' soup, 'Chaos' cakes, 'Mediterranean sea' borshch, 'Poseidon' sturgeon, 'The Sea of Azov' sauce, 'Capri' greenery, 'Vesuvius' punch, 'Olympus' sundae, 'North sea' ice-cream, 'Flood' liqueurs and 'From calm to hurricane' champagne.

He had a soft spot for Champagne. Aivazovsky usually took away original labels and drew new ones instead. It is not hard to guess that more often there were swirling marine waves pictured there.
ARTHIVE made its present to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Ivan Aivazovsky.
Get mesmerized by 10 animated paintings of Ivan Aivazovsky, the artist who seized the Sun, the Moon and surely the Sea!
10. Aivazovsky was obsessed with the seascapes. Though, sometimes he painted portraits as well. One of the most successful portraits was that of his second wife Anna. However, a transparent veil on her face is very much like the famous "Aivazovsky`s waves". The master could not resist to demonstrate his virtuosity here as well.

Aivazovsky married twice. His frst wife left him after 12 years of marriage because of his unwillingness to live in the capital. His second wife was an Armenian woman Anna Sarkisova-Burnazyan. She was 40 years younger than her husband. The artist met her at the funeral of her husband, and the beauty of a young widow amazed him.
11. The transparency of Aivazovsky`s foaming waves haunted the artist`s colleagues, it gave rise to rumors. They told that Aivazovsky bought the oils from Turner. A famous Russian portraitist Ivan Kramskoy wrote to the art collector Pavel Tretyakov, "Probably, Aivazovsky possesses the secret of making the paints, and even the colors are also secret; I`ve never seen the hues so bright and pure…" But there were no secret colors at all. There was a talent and skill.

12. Aivazovsky was an inquisitive person. For instance, he was anxious to know how the Niagara Fall looked like and what the difference between the sea waves and the ocean waves was. In 1892, he was 75 when he came to the USA. His plan was to see the Niagara Falls, to visit New York and Washington, and to showcase his pictures at the World Expo. All done! He even took his wife Anne across the ocean, making it a romantic cruise on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of their wedding. But the Niagara Fall was surely painted by memory and from his sketches when Aivazovsky was back home, in his studio.
Ivan Aivazovsky. Niagara falls
Niagara falls
1893, 126×164 cm
13. During his sea journeys, Aivazovsky got into the storms repeatedly. Once the ship with Aivazovsky on board got caught in such a severe storm, that the European newspapers were quick to write about the shipwreck and the death of all the passengers, including the artist Ivan Aivazovsky. They were wrong! And the artist managed to memorize the views, which he would later use in many of his paintings.
Ivan Aivazovsky. Wave
Wave
1889, 304×505 cm
14. Aivazovsky is a representative of the Romantic school of painting. This fact, together with the artist`s nature explain best why most of his paintings feature the storms, as the disasters and strong emotions fascinated Aivazovsky immensly. But a calm sea is also great in his paintings. Just look how much passion is in the sky over the tranquil sea.
15. Armenian by nationality, Aivazovsky had a rough spirit. He considered Constantinople to be the most beautiful city in the world. Turkish sultans Abdul-Majid I and Abdul Hamid II collected paintings by Aivazovsky, having awarded him with numerous medals. But after the mass killings of Armenians by the Ottomans in the 1890-ies, Aivazovsky changed his attitude to the patrons. As soon as he returned home from another overseas trip, he did not even take off his clothes. Instead of having rest after the journey he pulled out his shining medals, pinned them the collar of his dog and marched this way through the city of Feodosia. This strange procession was joined by almost the entire city. Having approached the sea, Aivazovsky got into into the boat, sailed away at a sufficient distance from the shore, raised the shining medals over his head and threw them into the sea.
16. Aivazovsky was absolutely fearless person. During the Crimean war the artist took part in the battle on a navy ship, provided first aid to his injured friend and did sketches of marine battles at the same time. Some of his canvases were even stained with blood.

17. Aivazovsky held the post of Chief artist of the Naval staff. He painted the views of the port cities, participated in the naval campaigns of the Russian Empire — in short, making artistic PR of the Russian Navy. The sailors adored the artist as well. The whole fleet would begin firing cannons without any military need just to let Aivazovsky observe how the smoke was dissipating in the fog so that the artist could paint it realistically in his works-to-be.

When Aivazovsky was celebrating the 80th anniversary, the best ships of the Russian Navy arrived to Feodosiya to honor the artist.
Ivan Aivazovsky. Ships at the Feodosiya roadstead. Honoring Aivazovsky on the occasion of his 80th birthday
Ivan Aivazovsky. Self-portrait
  • Ivan Aivazovsky. Ships at the Feodosiya Raid. Celebration of the artist`s 80th anniversary. 1897
  • Ivan Aivazovsky. Self-Portrait. 1892
18. Aivazovsky was good at plaing the violin. Once the composer Glinka saw young Aivazovsky who was sitting on the floor, resting his violin on his left knee and swaying from side to side while singing some Tatar song. The melody charmed the composer to the extent that Glinka included it to his "Ruslan and Lyudmila" opera.
19. Where did Aivazovsky come from? He grew up in a poor family of the Armenian merchant. His early career could be a plot for a good movie. The boy named Ovannes (that was the artist`s real name; later on he would call himself Ivan, in the Russian way) loved to draw silhouettes of the ships and figures of the sailors. There was neither paper, no pencils at home, therefore Ovannes painted with charcoal on the fences and the whitewashed walls. Aivazovsky was caught in this "criminal" act by the architect and the mayor of Feodosia. They gave the talented boy his first albums and paints, sending him to study later on.
Ivan Aivazovsky. Rainbow
Rainbow
1873, 102×132 cm
20. How did Aivazovsky die? If you have read this article until the end, then you can guess. Of course, it happened by his easel when the artist was completing another painting. He was nearly 83 years old. And after his death his fame has not waned. So, in 2017, to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Aivazovsky, Russia, Ukraine and Armenia (three countries that consider him to be their son) issued the coins with the portraits of Aivazovsky and details of his paintings.
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