Festivities in Feodosiia began with the laying of flowers and wreaths at the great artist’s grave, followed by a concert of musicians, including participants in the 19th international music festival “At Aivazovsky’s Home.” The Pioneer cinema theater showed the film Exposed to the Elements. I. K. Aivazovsky, the Aleksandr Grin Museum hosted the launching of Yevgeny Bilousov’s book Ivan Aivazovsky on the great painter’s childhood and youth, while the Central Children’s Library organized a virtual journey, “Ivan Aivazovsky, a World-Famous Seascape Painter.” Besides, the Museum of Antiques unveiled “The Black Sea,” an exhibit of unique items. The say ended with a festive concert that played a Stradivari violin. Among the fest’s visitors was the London-based Valerii Sokolov, a well-known Ukrainian violinist, an old friend of Feodosiia’s picture gallery, and an Aivazovsky buff.
It will be recalled that Aivazovsky’s oeuvre comprises about 6,000 pictures, a considerable part of which is devoted to his favorite world of water. Seascapes are so variegated that they leave you wondering at how the master always managed to find new shades in depicting the natural elements and, at the same time, keep his own inimitable style intact. As Ivan Aivazovsky himself confessed, “the sea is my life.” You can see the master’s virtuosity if you visit the Feodosiia Picture Gallery. The artist and art patron donated a select collection of canvases to his beloved city. The museum keeps almost 12,000 sea-themed works, including the world’s largest collections of 417 Aivazovsky’s pictures. The best known of them are The Brig Mercury Attacked by Two Turkish Ships, On the Sevastopol Roads, The Mary in the North Sea, St. George’s Monastery, The Sea. Koktebel, and the largest canvas Among the Waves. The gallery also exhibits the works of foreign 18th-19th-century seascape painters and the great artist’s contemporaries: Voloshyn, Bogayevsky, his pupils Lagorio, Latri, Fessler, and Kuindzhi. Martiros Saryan, a prominent 20th-century Armenian artist, who caught the essence of his great colleague’s inspired oeuvre, said the following about the importance of Aivazovsky as seascape painter: “No matter how terrible is the storm that you see on his picture, a ray of light, albeit thin and weak, is forcing its way through the gathering of ominous clouds in the picture’s top, which augurs a rescue. It is the belief in this light that the nation that brought forth Aivazovsky has carried across the centuries. It is this very light that underlies the meaning of all the storms depicted by Aivazovsky.”
Maybe, not all Day readers know that Aivazovsky also painted high-level genre pieces, pictures on biblical and Ancient Greek and Roman themes, and portraits. The artist was superb in making drawings and graphics. He was the first to depict Ukrainian steppe landscapes with windmills, reapers, ox-drawn trade wagons, and flocks of sheep in the steppe: Reeds on the Dnipro, Chumaks on a Halt, Ukrainian Landscape, During a Harvest in Ukraine. The painter showed, expressively and emotionally, local colors and customs on canvases. These canvases express his love for Ukraine and its hardworking, cheerful and openhearted people. What contributed to his love of Ukraine’s nature and people was acquaintance with Taras Shevchenko and Nikolai Gogol (Aivazovsky and Shevchenko studied at the Imperial Academy of Arts in different years, but their artistic ways often intersected).
A world-renowned artist could have chosen any city in the world to live and work in, but he went to the provincial Feodosiia. “I long to go to the Crimea, the Black Sea,” Aivazovsky confessed. In Feodosiia, he had a house built at his own design near the sea, in which he opened the General Art Studios in 1865, sort of a branch of the Arts Academy. Incidentally, such well-known artists as Lev Lagorio, Mikhail Latri, and Konstantin Bogayevsky also studied at these studios.
Any Feodosiia resident will say today that the Dzhankoi—Feodosiia railway, the commercial port, a public library, an Armenian school, and a print shop were opened thanks to Aivazovsky. Aivazovsky was elected the first honorary citizen of Feodosiia. An original fountain-shaped monument was built on Italian (now Gorky) Street – with a laurel-crowned palette that bears the inscription: “To a good genius.” The monument disappeared during World War Two. In 2004 the Feodosiia-based sculptor Valerii Zamekhovsky restored it with the help of old postcards, and the monument is again the city’s beauty spot and showpiece. It differs from the previous one by a colonnade and the inscription: “To the great Aivazovsky and his pupils from grateful Feodosiia.”
And the fountain built at Aivazovsky’s expense and design in 1888 is only of a historic and artistic value now. It was supplied for many years with water that ran down a 26-km-long pipeline from Aivazovsky’s manor. By the artist’s instruction, a silver mug was hung next to the fountain’s faucet so that every city dweller and visitor could quench their thirst free of charge. The fountain has survived until now, but no water comes in – the pipeline was ruined when one more elite high-rise was being built nearby.
The book The Life of a Great Seascape Painter by the Armenian art expert Manas Sargsyan (the translated version has been published by the Koktebel Publishing House) comprises a lot of unknown facts. For example, Aivazovsky gave his surname to Aleksandr, the son of his elder daughter Yelena. After getting married, all the four daughters of the artist by his first wife assumed the last names of their husbands and Aivazovsky was worried that his family name would disappear. Emperor Nicholas II complied with the artist’s request, and, as the famous grandfather wanted, the surname, the coat of arms, and the “privileges of a noble family” were bestowed on the grandson Aleksandr.
The grandson carefully kept memory of his ancestor and was collecting a family archive throughout his lifetime. Aleksandr Latri wrote memoirs which his nephew Henry Sanford, who visited the Crimea seven years ago to fill his family archive with new information about his ancestors, has translated into English.
Very few know that his first love was the Italian ballet diva Maria Taglioni who had an incredible success on the stage of Petersburg’s Grand Theater.
The artist’s marriage with Julia Graves, the daughter of a Petersburg doctor, who worked as governess in the family of Aivazovsky’s Feodosiia acquaintances, was not happy – the family life went awry. It took Aivazovsky a long to time to get an official divorce. After meeting Anna Sarkisova (also known as Sarkizova, nee Burnazian), the artist decided to try the family bliss again. Aivazovsky was very happy in the marriage with Anna who was 40 years younger than her 65-year-old chosen one. Incidentally, after her husband’s death, Anna observed mourning for 25 (!) years, staying behind in a detached house. In her voluntary seclusion, she survived World War One, the revolution, the intervention, the civil war, a famine, and the ruin. Anna died on July 25, 1944, having outlived her husband by 44 years. She was buried next to Aivazovsky’s grave in Feodosiia. The artist died at the age 82 on May 2, 1900, in his beloved Feodosiia. He was buried next to the Armenian medieval St. Sarkis Church. “Born a mortal, he left an immortal memory of himself” – these words are carved on the marble gravestone of the unsurpassed seascape painter.