Russian painter Ivan Constantinovich Aivazovsky (Hovhannes Aivazian) was born in Crimea, an island-like peninsula that extends the southern part of Ukraine into the Black Sea. In a career that spanned a good deal of the 19th Century, he painted nearly 6,000 canvases, over half of which were seascapes.
He painted the sea at rest and roiled with storms, studded with ships and clear of human presence, in day and night, Winter and Summer, through war and peace and from shore to open ocean. He is known as one of the great sea painters of the era.
Born into an Armenian family of few means, he earned a sponsorship to the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts, from which he graduated with the Gold Medal at the age of 20. He was sent to Italy for further study and developed into a master painter who would earn the respect of greats like Delacroix and Turner, the latter referring to him as a genius.
His work is in the collections of numerous museums, including the Hermitage in St. Petersburg and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and his increasingly valuable work (at times fetching millions at auction) is reportedly a frequent subject of forgeries, perhaps because of the confusion of provenance created by his prolific output and the political instability of the region.
If Aivazovsky had a second fascination, it was with light. In his landscapes, light is an actor, moody, capricious and mercurial. In his seascapes, light and water are dancing partners, sweeping through a dizzying array of movement and theatrics. Illuminated clouds form a second seascape, an inverse of the subject in many of his works, and are portrayed in a dazzling variety of colors.
Fortunately there are several good resources for Aivazovsky’s work.