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Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky (1817-1900)

14 September 2000 - 31 January 2001
The Mikhailovsky Palace

On 14 September 2000, the State Russian Museum opened an exhibition of the works of the outstanding artist Hovhannes (Ivan) Aivazovsky. The monographic show held in the academic hall of the museum consists of eighty paintings, drawings and watercolours from the collections of the Russian Museum, Central Naval Museum, Peterhof and Tsarskoe Selo estate museums and the Frunze Naval Institute. The exhibition contains such remarkable works by the artist as The Ninth Wave (1850), The Wave (1889), Storm Near Eupatoria (1863) and View of Odessa On a Moonlit Night (1846). It is hard to find another figure in the history of Russian art enjoying the same popularity among amateur viewers and erudite professionals alike. The artist's creative biography is relatively transparent. Aivazovsky did not experience any creative rises or falls. He was not haunted by failures, afflicted by official disfavour, vexed by critics or distressed by public indifference. He travelled across Europe and visited Africa and America. His works were acquired by Alexander III, Nicholas II and other European monarchs. During his lifetime, he held the unprecedented number of personal exhibitions - a total of fifty-five one-man shows. Several of these exhibitions then embarked on full-scale European tours. It is impossible to refer to any school in relation to Aivazovsky. The influence of his formal teacher, Philippe Tanneur, was negligible. Alexander Benois was right when he wrote that Aivazovsky stands apart from the general history of the Russian school of landscape painting. He was the first and for a long time the only representative of seascape painting as one of the subspecies of the landscape genre. All other artists who painted seascapes were either his own students or influenced by him. His power of observance, memory and specific talent for capturing impressions let the artist reproduce the diverse emotional states of nature in his pictures, whilst avoiding naturalism. Aivazovsky's own artistic talent told him what was foremost and what was of secondary importance in his pictures. Another important aspect of Aivazovsky personal technique was his ability to paint alla prima. His command of rapid painting was legendary. There are no studies, sketches or unfinished works in his oeuvre. Each picture by the famous seascape painter is complete and self-sufficient. Among the canvases are fifty items recreating the creative atmosphere of the artist. Among them are the models of ships and the samples of naval uniform of those days, the flag of St Andrew from one of the ships that took part in the Russo-Turkish war and the personal belongings of Grand Duke Konstantin Nikolaevich, who Aivazovsky accompanied on one of his naval expeditions.