Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky ( 29 July 1817 – 2 May 1900) was a Russian Romantic painter. He is considered one of the greatest marine artists in history. Baptized as Hovhannes Aivazian, Aivazovsky was born into an Armenian family in the Black Sea port of Feodosia and was mostly based in his native Crimea.
Following his education at the Imperial Academy of Arts, Aivazovsky traveled to Europe and lived briefly in Italy in the early 1840s. He then returned to Russia and was appointed the main painter of the Russian Navy. Aivazovsky had close ties with the military and political elite of the Russian Empire and often attended military maneuvers. He was sponsored by the imperial family and was well-regarded during his lifetime. The winged word “worthy of Aivazovsky’s brush”, popularised by Anton Chekhov, was used in Russia for “describing something ineffably lovely.”
One of the most prominent Russian artists of his time, Aivazovsky was also popular outside Russia. He held numerous solo exhibitions in Europe and the United States. During his almost sixty-year career, he created around 6,000 paintings, making him one of the most prolific artists of his time. The vast majority of his works are seascapes, but he often depicted battle scenes, Armenian themes, and portraiture. Most of Aivazovsky’s works are kept in Russian, Ukrainian and Armenian museums as well as private collections.
Ivan Aivazovsky’s canvas View of Constantinople and the Bosphorus was sold at Sotheby’s auction in London 2012 for a record $5.2 million (3.2 million pounds), the auction’s press service said.
View of Constantinople and the Bosphorus, painted in 1856, was the top lot of the Orientalist Sale, which totaled 5.6 million pounds.
The work by Russia’s outstanding marine painter was sold to an unknown buyer over the phone after tense auctioning, with the ultimate price almost three times as high as the pre-auction expert estimates of 1.2-1.8 million pounds.
Aivazovsky first visited Constantinople in 1845 as the official painter of the Russian Admiralty appointed by Emperor Nicholas I. His other works on the city with views on the Haghia Sophia and the Bay Golden Horn were smaller in scale while View of Constantinople and the Bosphorus is a monumental-sized painting.
Aivazovsky’s work conveys the beauty and dynamics of the busy port. In the right corner, it has the Nusretiye Mosque, an original combination of baroque and Islamic architecture, which is also an important navigation landmark.
In 1851, traveling with the Russian emperor Nicholas I, Aivazovsky sailed to Sevastopol to participate in military maneuvers. His archaeological excavations near Feodosia lead to his election as a full member of the Russian Geographical Society in 1853. In that year, the Crimean War erupted between Russia and the Ottoman Empire, and he was evacuated to Kharkiv. While safe, he returned to the besieged fortress of Sevastopol to paint battle scenes. His work was exhibited in Sevastopol while it was under Ottoman siege.
Between 1856 and 1857, Aivazovsky worked in Paris and became the first Russian (and the first non-French) artist to receive the Legion of Honour. In 1857, Aivazovsky visited Constantinople and was awarded the Order of the Medjidie. In the same year he was elected an honorary member of the Moscow Art Society. He was awarded the Greek Order of the Redeemer in 1859 and the Russian Order of St. Vladimir in 1865.
Aivazovsky opened an art studio in Feodosia in 1865 and was awarded a salary by the Imperial Academy of Arts the same year.
In the 1860s, the artist produced several paintings inspired by Greek nationalism and the Italian unification. In 1868, he once again visited Constantinople and produced a series of works about the Greek resistance to the Turks, during the Great Cretan Revolution. In 1868, Aivazovsky traveled in the Caucasus and visited the Russian part of Armenia for the first time. He painted several mountainous landscapes and in 1869 held an exhibition in Tiflis. Later in the year, he made a trip to Egypt and took part in the opening ceremony of the Suez Canal. He became the “first artist to paint the Suez Canal, thus marking an epoch-making event in the history of Europe, Africa and Asia.
In 1870, Aivazovsky was made a Actual Civil Councilor, the fourth highest civil rank in Russia. In 1871, he initiated the construction of the archaeological museum in Feodosia. In 1872, he “visited Nice and Florence with an exhibition of his works”. In 1874, the Accademia di Belle Arti di Firenze (Florence Academy of Fine Art) asked him for a self-portrait to be hung in the Uffizi Gallery. The same year, he “traveled to Constantinople at the invitation of Sultan Abdülaziz and awarded the Turkish Order of Osmanieh”. In 1876, he was made a member of the Academy of Arts in Florence and became the second Russian artist (after Orest Kiprensky) to paint a self-portrait for thePalazzo Pitti.
Aivazovsky was elected an honorary member of Stuttgart’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts (de) in 1878. He made a trip to the Netherlands and France, staying briefly in Frankfurtuntil 1879. He subsequently visited Munich and traveled to Genoa and Venice “to collect material on the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus.”
In 1880, Aivazovsky opened an art gallery in his Feodosia house; it became the third museum in the Russian Empire, after the Hermitage Museum and the Tretyakov Gallery. Aivazovsky held an 1881 exhibition at London’s Pall Mall, attended by John Everett Millais and Edward VII, Prince of Wales.