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Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovskii (1817-1900)
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Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovskii (1817-1900)

A moonlit view of Odessa from the Black Sea

Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovskii (1817-1900)
A moonlit view of Odessa from the Black Sea
signed in Cyrillic and dated 'Aivazovskii/1861' (lower right)
oil on canvas
24 1/8 x 35¾ (61.6 x 90.7 cm.)
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Lot Essay

The mastery of Ivan Aivazovskii (1817-1900) is already well-known to the general public. As a prolific artist, Aivazovskii's masterpieces brought world-wide fame to Russian art during his lifetime. Born in Theodosia, a bustling port on the Black Sea, Aivazovskii displayed a precocious artistic ability and later studied under the landscape artist M.N. Vorobiov at the St. Petersburg Academy of Art. After his first highly successful exhibitions he quickly established a reputation for masterful seascapes that combined a delicate tonal harmony with an almost ethereal quality.

Aivazovskii was captivated by the sea. He painted it in every weather and light: in calm and storm, by day and night, empty and full of human presence and drama, both as carer and calamity for ships and sailors. "If I was to live another 300 years, I would always find something new in the sea", the artist once said. Despite his extensive travels, his soul always yearned to be back in his native land, around the Black Sea. In his choice of subject, Aivazovskii frequently returned to the maritime city of Odessa, captured by Catherine the Great during the course of the Russo-Turkish wars at the end of the 18th Century. The unique position of the city, on the cusp of East and West, providing a vital trade route through two of the largest ports within Russia, Odessa and Yuzhny.

Nicholas I commissioned Aivazovskii, to paint a series of Russian ports, including Odessa, Sevastopol and Kerch. Painted in the Crimea, the view of Odessa was later exhibited in the city itself and in Theodosia. At about the same time, in 1846, four paintings from the series were included in the Imperial Hermitage collection. A contemporary critic wrote of one view of Odessa in Odesskii Vestnik in Russian: "The more you stand in front of the view of Odessa, the more it enchants my eyes; the sea has so much life and movement, the light on the waves is so natural, that one cannot help but wonder how an artist can possibly capture so truthfully the charming beauty of the Southern moon night" (The State Russian Museum, I. K. Aivazovskii, St. Petersburg, 2000, p. 44, illustrated). The present painting is dated 1861 and depicts the famous coastline in the serene mood of a moonlit summer night. A comparative view of Odessa is held in The State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg (see fig. 1).

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