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Henry M. Robert

Heavy seas

Exhibit of works by Aivazovsky generates much excitement in Kyiv
20 March, 2007 - 00:00

This event is dedicated to the 85th anniversary of the Kyiv-based Museum of Russian Art and the 190th birthday of the famous artist, Ivan Aivazovsky. Among the 50 canvases displayed there are paintings from the museum’s collection, some privately owned collections, and other major Ukrainian museums, including the Odesa Art Museum, Koshytsky Art Museum of Sevastopil, Vereshchagin Art Museum of Mykolaiv, Onatsky Art Museum, Donetsk Regional Art Museum, and Horlivka Art Museum. According to Yurii Vakulenko, the director of the Museum of Russian Art, such a rich collection of Aivazovsky’s works has not been displayed for more than 20 years.

Although the exhibition lacks his most famous canvases, visitors are able to see some other well known works from various artistic periods. There are paintings from Aivazovsky’s earliest, Crimean, period, which were created immediately after the author’s graduation from the Academy of Art (1838-39), and his last works, which were painted in the late 1880s. One of the paintings on display is so huge that it had to be carried into the museum through the fire exit.

There are paintings of the marinas that made Aivazovsky famous, as well as everyday scenes and Ukrainian steppe landscapes. Aivazovsky was one of the first painters to brilliantly depict the beauty of the Ukrainian steppes.

As Vakulenko noted, the return of the painting The Volga near the Zhiguli Mountains to the Museum of Russian Art gives the exhibition a special touch. It was removed from the museum’s storage more than two decades ago and stored at Mariinsky Palace. When the exhibition closes, the canvas will undergo restoration.


Ivan Kostiantynovych Aivazovsky was born on July 17, 1817, in Feodosia into the family of an Armenian merchant. He studied painting at the St. Petersburg Academy of Art under M. Vorobev. As a graduate of the academy, he worked in the Crimea in 1838-40, and in Italy in 1840-44. He also visited France, England, and other countries. Aivazovsky enjoyed traveling to foreign lands, but since 1845 he worked chiefly in his native city.

His bold canvas portraying the disastrous Ninth Wave (1850, Russian Museum, St. Petersburg), in which the artist succeeded in creating a vision of an endless sea, may be considered a summation of his early period. Aivazovsky, who was a prolific artist — he painted over 6,000 canvases — mastered the picturesque effect with which he became associated.

But in his most popular paintings, such as The Black Sea (1881, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow) he demonstrates his main talent — his ability to show the eternally moving element of water. As the official painter of the Russian Naval Headquarters (since 1844) Aivazovsky took part in several sea campaigns, including the Crimean War of 1853-56, afterwards creating a number of moving battle scenes, for example The Battle of Chesma (1848, Feodosia Art Gallery).

Aivazovsky was also known as a generous philanthropist. In Feodosia he sponsored the construction of the Archaeological Museum, donated funds to build the seaport and railway, and to prettifying the city. His studio turned out a number of outstanding landscape painters: Lagorio, Kuindzhi, Bohaievsky, and others.

Aivazovsky died in Feodosia on April 19, 1900. The Feodosia Art Gallery, named after the great master, is the proud keeper of the most representative collection of his works.

By Kateryna BILOKON, The Day