Ivan Aivazovsky is the most interesting phenomenon of 19th century art. He gained international fame at the age of 25, was elected a member to five European Academies and was awarded the medal of the French Legion of Honor. Delacroix referred to him in reverence and Turner called him a genius.
Aivazovsky's name is intricately bound with the sea. In his best seascapes (and in a legacy of about 6000, there are some works which condescend to his artistic ability and others which merit singular artistic attention) he has revealed his inner self through the spirit of the times, his ideals of humanism, and the love of freedom. The artist lived by those ideals; the love that he had towards the oppressed, the help he offered and the work that he did for the public good make him an exceptional individual and a true son of his times.
Aivazovsky was born to an Armenian family in the city of Theodosia in the Crimea.
At the age of twenty he graduates from the Art Academy of St. Petersburg with a gold medal. He goes to Italy to continue his studies and returns as an internationally acclaimed seascape painter. Neither financial security nor life in Palace interests him. He returns to his native land, builds a workplace on the seashore and, until the last days of his life, dedicates himself to the work that he loves. He participates in exhibitions all over the world. He gets recognition and glory as a representative of Russian art greatly helps in familiarizing it.
In Aivazovsky's creative work one finds such aspects of Armenian culture and national temperament that it becomes impossible to separate his art from his native people. It is this characteristic that gives Aivazovsky's creativity its unique quality.
Even in the early years, Aivazovsky had a vivid and emotional understanding of reality. He always remained a romantic at heart even through his art could never separate itself from his academic background. The Artist's expressive language was in complete harmony with the techniques that he used. As a young boy Aivazovsky had known the sea, had loved it passionately and had known the secrets of its movements. It was this memory, together with his imagination, that was responsible for his best works. Rather than merely "reproduce" the sea, Aivazovsky tells us its fables and thus makes a symbolic statement.
Aivazovsky made his mark in contemporary art through his own rules and his own world view; he was true both to his academic background and his romantic inclinations.
The concept of light is all important to Aivazovsky. The perceptive viewer will observe that while painting the waves, clouds or sky space, the artist's emphasis is on the light. In Aivazovsky's art light is the eternal symbol for life, hope and faith. This is light the creator, the concept of which has its roots deep down in Armenian culture and its continuity in the next generation of Armenian artists.
To eliminate "The Armenian Question", Sultan Abdul Hamid, in 1895, ordered a series of massacres which claimed the life of hundreds of thousands of Armenians. Numerous Armenian cultural monuments were burned or destroyed. This tragic reality shocked the artist: "My heart is full of grief for our ill-fated people; for this tragic and unprecedented massacre", he wrote to the Armenian Catholicos Khrimian. He threw into the sea the medal that the Sultan had given him years before. He painted and exhibited canvases depicting the massacre. It was with pain and grief that he painted his last canvas "The Explosion of the Turkish Ship", which he could not finish. The date was May 2nd, 1900.
Aivazovsky's house in Theodosia became a place for artistic pilgrimage. Armenian artists were invited there and actors and musicians performed there. It was there that artists like Bashinjagyan, Sureniants, Makhokhian and Shabanian started their creative life. Aivazovsky's dream was to create a union of Armenian artists from all over the world.
During his long period of creative life, and especially after 1868, Aivazovsky executed tens of canvases with Armenian themes. His landscapes depicting life in Tbilisi, Lake Sevan and Mount Ararat popularized the genre in Armenian art. He also had a series of works with themes from he bible and from ancient Armenian history. Two of his works, which were exhibited in the Church in Theodosia and have inspired patriotism ever since, are reproduced here for the first time.
According to his wishes, Aivazovsky was buried in the Armenian Church of St. Sarkis in Theodosia. His tombstone has a quotation from historian Khorenatsi's "History of Armenians" - "Born a mortal, he left immortal memories". The "memories" condense in them the spirit of the times and the most precious spirit of all time - that of Humanism.
Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky was one of the most popular artists of his times.