Aivazovsky’s marine art on display at the National Gallery of Armenia

After the completion of long-awaited renovations, the permanent exhibition of renowned Armenian artist Ivan Aivazovsky (born Hovhannes Aivazian) has reopened at the National Gallery of Armenia in Yerevan. The exhibition is the marine artist’s most significant collection in terms of quantity and artistic worth, containing over 50 paintings and graphic works.

Born in Theodosia on the Crimean coast, Aivazovsky grew up by the sea, which sparked his inclination for arts from a young age. Aivazovsky studied at the Simferopol Gymnasium (1831-1833) and then at the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg (1833-1839). 

Statue of Aivazovsky at the National Gallery of Armenia

In 1837, the Saint Petersburg Academy of Arts awarded Aivazovsky a gold medal and sent him to study abroad. In 1840, Aivazovksy set off to Italy and later traveled to England, the Netherlands and France. In 1868, Aivazovsky went to the Caucasus, and in 1869 he participated in the opening ceremony of the Suez Canal. When he was 75, he took the longest journey of his life and traveled to America by steamboat with his wife Anna Burnazian.

Aivazovsky’s works were admired everywhere, and he was elected a member of the academies of Paris, Rome, Amsterdam, Florence and Stuttgart. He was also awarded the French Legion of Honour and received the highest rewards.

Haykuhi Sahakyan, art historian and curator of the exhibition, told the Weekly, “The collection of Hovhannes Aivazovsky of the National Gallery of Armenia is one of the richest collections of the world-famous sea painter and is extremely diverse both in terms of genre and exhibits.” Sahakyan added that a large number of the pieces from the collection were laid in the very first years of the museum’s foundation between 1924 and 1985. The first exhibits were transferred to the museum from the Armenian House of Culture in Moscow (former Lazarian Seminary). Throughout the years, the collection has grown rapidly through donations and acquisitions.

Aivazovsky’s artwork at the National Gallery of Armenia

The current Aivazovsky exhibition aims to introduce visitors to the museum’s collection and many of Aivazovsky’s masterpieces that demonstrate virtuosity. Consisting of four sections, the main element of the exhibition is light, which in its various manifestations is the main idea in many of Aivazovsky’s paintings. Aivazovsky used the technique of glazing, which is masterfully demonstrated in his paintings of sunrise and sunset scenes. 

“It is possible to single out the painting ‘Descent of Noah from Ararat’, painted by Aivazovsky in 1889. It symbolizes the beginning of a new life and seems to be imbued with biblical light,” Sahakyan said. Originally, the painting was exhibited in Paris, but later it was brought to Armenia through the efforts of Martiros Saryan. 

Aivazovsky’s artwork at the National Gallery of Armenia

Although consistent, Aivazovsky’s sea paintings are distinguished by a variety of genres and themes, and the stormy scenes especially reflect Aivazovsky’s temperament, according to Sahakyan. Contrary to many beliefs, Aivazovsky did not like working in the open air, as he believed that the elements of nature were constantly changing, and it was impossible to capture the wind, cloud movements and the sea. “He watched the sea for a long time, which, according to him, changed every second, and once he went back to his studio, he began to depict it in such a way that it seemed that the waves were moving in his canvases,” Sahakyan said.

The sea and the storm were Aivazovsky’s creative passions, especially depicting when the natural forces reach their maximum tension. The intense confrontation between humanity and the forces of nature is also a prominent theme in his artwork. In 1844, a ship sailing from England to Spain and struggling against a storm, with young Aivazovsky among its passengers, miraculously came ashore in the Bay of Biscay. “Fear was not able to suppress the ability to perceive that living picture and to imprint it in my memory,” Aivazovsky wrote. As a witness of the untamed elements of nature, Aivazovsky later created many works that conveyed his admiration for all things natural. “In his paintings, the ever-present ray of light, the symbol of hope and salvation, foreshadows an optimistic ending even for the most terrible storms,” as stated in the exhibit.

Aivazovsky’s artwork at the National Gallery of Armenia

The relationship between man and nature, optimism and humanism are the basis of Aivazovsky’s art, as evident in the exhibition. Aivazovsky loved to travel to different countries, paint new seashores and introduce his works to art lovers everywhere. The fourth and final section of the exhibition features nighttime seascapes, which convey the mystery and charm of moonlit seascapes typical of Romantic art. “Both Armenian and foreign visitors are always curious to discover new aspects of his art and leave the museum filled with the greatest admiration for Aivazovsky’s art,” Sahakyan said.

Hena Aposhian

Hena Aposhian

Hena Aposhian is a freelance journalist who primarily focuses on Armenian arts & culture. She is a graduate of the American University of Armenia and holds a bachelor's degree in English & Communications.

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