I want to thank fellow history blogger Andrew Joseph Pegoda for bringing this incredible painting and its amazing artist–Russian 19th century romanticist Ivan Aivazovsky–to my attention. This picture, completed in 1886, depicts survivors rowing desperately from their stricken sailing ship in the midst of a crashing storm. Undoubtedly thousands of similar pictures were created in the height of the Romanticist art boom in the 19th century, where marine scenes were especially popular, but this one by Aivazovsky is truly over the top. He is regarded as one of the best nautical painters of all time and from this you can tell why: look at how realistic and dynamic the waves in this picture are. This was Aivasovsky’s specialty, and waves of this nature appear in many of his paintings across his long career which stretches from the late 1840s to the end of the century.
Ivan Aivazovsky was born in Crimea, Russia, and his family was of Armenian extraction. He studied in St. Petersburg, Venice and Florence before returning to his native Russia in 1844. He frequently witnessed and attended naval military maneuvers which was where he gained proficiency in painting sea scenes. Aivazovsky’s career coincided with a tremendous flowering of Russian art, literature and culture at the very end of the tsarist period, an era that included writers such as Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, composers like Tchaikovsky and (eventually) photographers like Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky. Aivazovsky died in 1900, and ultimately the Russian Revolution of 1917 brought down the curtain on this extraordinary period of cultural activity. Fortunately the body of work he and others left behind remain for our benefit today. This painting is digitized courtesy of the WikiArt Project.
I can guarantee you I’ll be featuring more of Ivan Aivasovsky’s stunning pictures in future installments of this series.