Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky was a Russian painter associated with Romanticism. He became one of the most famous Russian artists of his time, expanding his renown and respect beyond his country's borders, being appraised in several European countries. He became especially known for his landscape and seascapes with magnificent skies, intense raging seas, and paintings of ships at sea.
Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky was born in July 1817, in the city of Feodosia, or Theodosia, Crimea, then a part of the Russian Empire. He was baptized under the name of Hovhannes Aivazian and received education at the Feodosia's St. Sargis Church.
His first artistic education was with a local architect. At age 16, Aivazovsky relocated to the Russian Capital, St. Petersburg, and became a student at Maxim Vorobiev's landscape classes at the Imperial Academy of Arts. Maxim Vorobiev was a Russian landscape painter, whose stylistic influence is undeniably present in Aivazovsky's artworks, especially in his finely executed, sparkling skies, water, and the overall atmospheric effects on the landscape.
In 1835, at age 18, he was appointed as assistant to the French painter Philippe Tanneur, on top of receiving a silver medal. Two years later, Aivazovsky joined Alexander Sauerweid on battle-painting and participated in exercises of the Russian Navy in the Gulf of Finland. Later that year, he graduated with a gold medal in the Imperial Academy of Arts. A fast learner, Aivazovsky graduated two years earlier than intended. By 1839, the artist took part in military exercises on the coast of his native Crimea, where he made acquaintances with distinguished Russian admirals and was able to gather visual material to improve his sea painting.
Aivazovsky was sent to study in Europe by the Imperial Academy of Arts in 1840. He first went to Venice and Vienna, where he visited San Lazzaro Degli Armeni, the location of an important Armenian Catholic congregation in which he studied and became familiar with Armenian manuscripts and art, deepening his interest in his heritage. This element would later be present in his production.
He then headed to Amalfi, Sorrento, and Florence, where he met the Russian painter Alexander Ivanov. He remained in Rome and Naples between 1840 and 1842. Through this period, he was heavily influenced by Italian art, and he would study in their museums, serving him as a sort of a second academy for him. However, regarding European art, Aivazovsky's oeuvre was more influenced by the atmospheric turmoils, the Dutch sea paintings, and the late Romanticism, dwarfing the human figure before the grandiose power of nature.
He also traveled to Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Britain, where he made acquaintances with the painter J. M. W. Turner, who was very impressed by Aivazovsky's painting, The Bay Of Naples at Moonlit Night. Aivazovsky's works were admired throughout Europe. He also visited Portugal, Spain, and Malta. While in France, he was awarded a gold medal by the Académie Royale de Peinture et de sculpture. During this period, in an international exhibition at the distinguished Louvre Museum, Aivazovsky was the sole representative of Russian art at the showing.
Returning to Russia, Aivazovsky was made an Academician at the Imperial Academy of Arts, as well as appointed as the official artist of the Russian Navy to paint naval battles, coastal scenes, seascapes, and paintings of ships at sea. In 1845 he returned to his hometown, Feodosia, he settled there, building a house and studio.
After that, he isolated himself, and that didn't take a good turn to his artistic career. In that period, around the mid-nineteenth century, Russian art was changing from the Romanticism towards Realism, but Aivazovsky didn't go through this change. He continued painting Romantic seascapes, which he was heavily criticized, suggesting that the artist was not encompassed with his time.
Aivazovsky worked in Paris from 1856 to 1857, where he received the French Legion of Honour, which is the highest order of merit to receive, civil or military, he was the first Russian and the first non-French as well, to receive it. He also received the Order of the Medjidie in Constantinople by the Ottoman Empire, the Greek Order of the Redeemer, and the Russian Order of St. Vladimir. He was also elected as an honorary member of the Moscow Art Society.
Aivazovski continued to be respected and recognized as a skilled artist. However, due to profound changes in Russian society during the 1860s and 70s, rendered the artist famous artist somewhat obsolete. At a time that Russian society was going through several social reforms. There was an urge to bring art to the people, thus aiming to explore the country's social realities, paving the way to the development of the Russian Realist movement, with artists such as Ivan Shishkin, Ilya Repin, and the group Peredvizhniki, also known as the Wanderers.
During his later career, Aivazovsky's artworks continued and to explore grandiose subjects and stirringly romantic scenes; he also began to explore further his Slavic roots.
Ivan Aivazovski died on April 19, 1900, in his beloved Feodosia. The famous artist was immortalized by his exquisite seascapes and intense wave painting. Although Academic Classicism may be considered out of vogue by today's standards, his artworks still impress to this day, especially his depictions of storms and crashing waves.
In fact, Aivazovsky's methods to paint his stormy landscapes varied from his academic contemporaries. The skies were executed with several layers of paint of finely set over the canvas. However, the waves were rendered with thick coats of paint. Also, the main focus of the compositions was made with more detail. In contrast, other elements were made with more impressionistic brushstrokes as they became closer to the edges of the picture.
Accounts attest that Aivazovsky, when paintings his raging seas, created his oil paintings in an equally intense and visceral manner. He would propel himself towards the canvas, executing rapid and incisive brushstrokes, making his process physically demanding as well.