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Ivan Aivazovksy July 29, 1817 – May 5, 1900) was a Russian painter of
Armenian descent living and working in Crimea, most famous for his
seascapes, which constitute more than half of his paintings.
Aivazovsky was born in the town of Feodosiya (Theodosia), Crimea
(Russian Empire) (modern-day Ukraine) to a poor Armenian family. His
parents' family name was Aivazian. Some of the artist's paintings bear
a signature, in Armenian letters, "Hovhannes Aivazian".
His talent as an artist earned him sponsorship and entry to the
Simferopol gymnasium and later the St.Petersburg Academy of Arts, which
he graduated with a gold medal. Earning awards for his early landscapes
and seascapes, he went on to paint a series of portraits of Crimean
coastal towns before travelling throughout Europe. In later life, his
paintings of naval scenes earned him a long-standing commission from
the Russian Navy stationed in the Black Sea.
In 1845, Aivazovsky went to Constantinople upon the invitation of
Sultan Abdülmecid I, a city he was to travel to eight times between
1845–1890. During his long sojourn in Constantinople, Aivazovsky was
commissioned for a number of paintings as a court painter by the
Ottoman Sultans Abdülmecid, Abdulaziz and Abdulhamid, 30 of which are
currently on display in the Ottoman Imperial Palace, the Dolmabahce
Museum and many other museums in Turkey. His works are also found in
dozens of museums throughout Russia and the former Soviet republics,
including the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, and the Aivazovsky
Art Gallery in Feodosiya, Ukraine. The office of Turkey's Foreign
Minister, Abdullah Gül, has Aivasovsky's paintings on the wall.
At 31, Aivazovsky married Julia Graves, an English governess in St.
Petersburg. They had four daughters. The marriage was dissolved, and at
the age of 65, Aivazovsky, married Anna Boornazian, a young Armenian
widow from Theodosia.
Aivazovsky was deeply affected by the Hamidian massacres of Armenians
in Asia Minor in 1895, painting a number of works on the subject such
as The Expulsion of the Turkish Ship, and The Armenian Massacres at Trevizond,
renouncing a medal which had been awarded to him in
Constantinople. He spent his last years in Feodosia where he
supplied the town with water from his own estate, opened an art school,
began the first archaeological excavations in the region and built a
historical museum. Due to his efforts a commercial port was established
at Feodosiya and linked to the railway network. Aivasovsky died in
Feodosiya in 1900.
Aivazovsky is best known for his seascapes and coastal scenes. His
technique and imagination in depicting the shimmering play of light on
the waves and seafoam is especially admired, and gives his seascapes a
romantic yet realistic quality that echoes the work of English
watercolorist J. M. W. Turner and Russian painter Sylvester Shchedrin.
Especially effective is his ability to depict diffuse sunlight and
moonlight, sometimes coming from behind clouds, sometimes coming
through a fog, with almost transparent layers of paint. A series of
paintings of naval battles painted in the 1840s brought his dramatic
skills to the fore, with the flames of burning ships reflected in water
and clouds. He also painted landscapes, including scenes of peasant
life in Ukraine and city life in Constantinople. Some critics have
called his paintings from Constantinople Orientalist, and others feel
the hundreds of seascapes can be repetitive and melodramatic.
Aivazovsky became the most prolific Russian Armenian painter of his
time. He left over 6,000 works at his death in 1900. The funds earned
during his successful career as an artist enabled him to open an art
school and gallery in his hometown of Feodosiya.
As of 2006, Aivazovsky's works have been auctioned for as much as
$3,200,000, and his international reputation continues to grow.
He is also said to be the most forged of all Russian Armenian painters.
A minor planet 3787 Aivazovskij, discovered by Soviet astronomer Nikolai Stepanovich Chernykh in 1977 is named after him.
Aivazovsky is referenced in Anton Chekhov's play Uncle Vanya.
Russia, Ukraine, and Armenia have issued postage stamps of Aivazovsky's works.
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