In 1892, Ivan Aivazovsky, Russia's most prominent marine artist and the official artist of the Imperial Navy, sailed across the Atlantic to America. In an interview prior to his departure, Aivazovsky said: The main purpose of my journey is to see the ocean once more and to renew my impressions of the journey I took in the 1840s. I'm fond of those impressions, of those sceneries with limitless beauties of water (S. Khachaturian, Aivazovsky in America, 1988, p. 18).
The artist contributed twenty paintings to the 1893 Chicago World's Fair and intended to tour the United States before making his appearance at the Exposition. His grand tour lasted two months and gave him the opportunity to see the 'magnificence of the Niagara falls'. During his trip home the ocean liner was caught in a major storm, providing the artist with a graphic example of the fury of the ocean. Before leaving for Russia he organized several exhibitions in New York and Washington and exhibited pictures he had painted during his stay.
The survivor, was inspired by impressions of his recent transatlantic voyage. The work is a powerful example of the romantic seascapes for which Aivazovsky had become famous. The image of man as small and helpless before the uncontrolled power of nature is a central theme in the work of Aivazovsky. His oeuvre consists of many works depicting shipwrecks, and lonely survivors, left to the mercy of the overwhelming power of the sea. The composition of The survivor depicts the thrashing waves, perilous rocks and stormy sky. All the forces of nature are against the only survivor of a shipwreck, who climbs the rocks, determined to overcome his misfortune. The dramatic, almost theatrical effect of this work was achieved by using dark and intense colours and limited, concentrated light. The present lot is yet another masterly work by the internationally renowned marine painter.