The biography of Ivan Constantinovich Aivazovsky (1817 - 1900)

Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky (July 29, 1817 – May 5, 1900) was a Russian painter of Armenian descent, most famous for his seascapes, which constitute more than half of his paintings.

Ivan Konstantinovich was born in the town of Theodosia, Crimea, to a poor Armenian family. His parents’ family name was Aivazian. His father the Armenian merchant Konstantin (Gevork) Aivazian moved to Theodosia from Poland where operated a small store and his mother was employed in the lace and embroidery industry. Borth worked diligently in order to support their five children.

In accordance with his wishes, Aivazovsky was buried in the courtyard of the St. Sarkis Armenian Church in Theodosia. The inscription on his tombstone, in Armenian and Russian reads: "He was born a mortal, left an immortal legacy".

Ivan,s talent as an artist earned him sponsorship. The Governor of Theodosia recognized the talent of young Ivan and helped him enter high school in Simferopol and in 1833 St. Petersburg Academy of Art where he studied under M. Vorobyov. He graduated Academy with the gold medal at 20 years of age. Earning awards for his early landscapes and seascapes, he went on to paint a series of portraits of Crimean coastal towns before traveling throughout Europe. In later life, his paintings of naval scenes earned him a longstanding commission from the Russian Navy.

One of the greatest seascape painters of his time, Aivazovsky conveyed the movement of the waves, the transparent water, the dialogue between sea and sky with virtuoso skill and tangible verisimilitude. The artist also often turned to themes from Armenian and Russian history. The originality of Aivazovsky's work is largely determined by his national character and temperament. Armenian culture has an ancient tradition of the creative value of light, and the knowledge of light was one of the most important elements in his art, giving the artist's canvases a dreamy and emotional feel.

In 1845, Aivazovsky went to Istanbul upon the invitation of Sultan Abdülmecid, a city he was to travel to eight times between 1845 and 1890. During his long sojourn in Istanbul, Aivazovsky was commissioned for a number of paintings as a court painter by the Ottoman Sultans Abdülmecid, Abdulaziz and Abdulhamid, 30 of which are currently on display in the Ottoman Imperial Palace, the Dolmabahce Museum and many others at various other museums in Turkey.

Following the massacres of the Armenians in Turkey, many refugees came to Theodosia, where Aivazovsky provided shelter and food, and helped families relocate. So incensed was he with the treatment of the Armenians in Turkey that he painted a series of canvases condemning the massacres, which were exhibted in Moscow. He also renounced the medals which have been presented to him by the Sultan. His own emotional involvement with the massacres produced the paintings, The Armenian Massacres of Trevizond, Shiploaded Armenians, and Armenians Thrown into the Sea Alive.

After study in Italy Aivazovski returned as a recognized master. Delacroix spoke of him with great respect and Turner described him as a genius. Always true to his motto, "For me, to live means to work," due to his long life in art, Aivazovski created around 6,000 paintings. With funds earned during his successful career as an artist he opened an art school and gallery. His house in his native town was turned into a museum dedicated to his memory even during his lifetime. He is also said to be the most forged of all Russian painters.

As of 2006, Aivazovsky's works have been auctioned for as much as $3,200,000, and his international reputation continues to grow. On June 14, 2007 his painting "American Shipping off the Rock of Gibraltar" sold for 2,710,000 pounds.