Lines and Colors art blog

Ivan Aivazovsky

Ivan AivazovskyUkrainian/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.

Addendum: Someone from All Art News was kind enough to remind me that Aivazovsky is also well represented on (see my post on I’ve also added it to the list below.



7 responses to “Ivan Aivazovsky”

  1. Wow. Six THOUSAND??? It really doesn’t seem possible. I checked the links and you made no mistake. Armeniapedia says OVER six thousand, actually. I only wish I could produce that many… Great post as always, Charley.

  2. It’s interesting, I’ve seen mention of Russian artists quite a bit lately. I think that’s great, you don’t often hear about them and they have some wonderful works.

    I’ve been a fan of several of them for some time (Shishkin, Repin, Vereshchagin to name a few), and there are some fascinating works by them. I did a blog awhile ago of an Aivazovsky and Repin piece (Pushkin’s Farewell to the Sea) which was nice, and the first time I had heard of Aivazovsky. James Gurney’s blog has mentioned Repin a couple of times this week even.

    Thanks for the great post as always!

  3. Wow, over 6ooo! I have never heard of him before, but that’s pretty impressing.

    1. Thanks, everyone, for the comments.

      Here are some past Lines and Colors posts on Russian artists and related topics:
      Vasily Siurikov
      Ivan Kramskoy
      Ilya Repin
      Ivan Shiskin
      Sergi Bongart
      Garren Gallery
      Russian Art Gallery

  4. Here I share with you another source of images about Ivan Constantinovich Aivazovsky :

  5. The painting at the top is called the “Ninth Wave.” It depicts the strongest wave of a violent storm. The Russian seamen’s legend asserts it destroys all in its path.

    The reproduction isn’t good but a storm is moving off to the left and the Ninth Wave appears and painted to to suggest it may miss the survivors stranded on a mast. The sun represents the spirtual light as well and you can see it reflecting along the sea and touching the mast shaped as a cross.

    Aivazovsky always offered hope in his paintings regardless of how violent they appeared.

    A better view