Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky originally Aivazian (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 No.1 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 Abdulmecid 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 Abdulmecid, 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 Gul, 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." and 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.
A minor planet 3787 Aivazovskij, discovered by Soviet astronomer Nikolai Stepanovich Chernykh in 1977 is named after him.