Ivan Aivazovsky (1817-1900)
Ivan Aivazovsky (1817-1900)

Venice at sunset

Ivan Aivazovsky (1817-1900)
Venice at sunset
signed and dated 'Aïvasovsky/1873' (lower right)
oil on canvas
25 ¾ x 40 in. (65.5 x 101.6 cm.)
Sir Edmund Giles Loder Bt., D.L. (1914-1999), England.
The Property of Sir Giles Loder, Bt., D.L.; Christie's, London, 27 November 1981, lot 201.
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, New York, 27 May 1982, lot 76.
The Property of a Private Collector, Europe; Christie's, New York, 11 November 1998, lot 5.
John W. Kluge (1914-2010).
A. Khachatourian, Aivazovsky well-known and unknown, Samara, 2000, illustrated p. 76.
A. Khachatourian, Hovhannes/Ivan Aïvazovsky, Yerevan, 2009, illustrated p. 139.
G. Caffiero and I. Samarine, Light, Water and Sky. The paintings of Ivan Aivazovsky, London, 2012, illustrated and listed p. 297, no. CS-1873-002.

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Alexis de Tiesenhausen
Alexis de Tiesenhausen

Lot Essay

From a young age, John W. Kluge (1914-2010) recognized the value of an education. He devoted his formative years to building a strong foundation of learning that would come to inform so many of the successes that he continually achieved in his lifetime. It should come as little surprise that Kluge, as a 14 year old German immigrant, moved from his parent’s home in Detroit, Michigan to his teacher’s home in an effort to dedicate himself more fully to his education. This focus and drive eventually led him to Columbia University where he earned a scholarship and began a lifelong relationship with the university. As a corporate mogul Kluge sought opportunities and challenged himself to keep trying new things - much in the same way he approached his education. Although often associated with his enormous success with Metromedia, Kluge’s undeniable dedication to his liberal arts background manifested itself most profoundly through his philanthropy. Once named America’s richest man, John Kluge never focused on the dollars. Rather, the key to his success was rooted in an investment in knowledge: “Young entrepreneurs should spend an awful lot of time thinking about what they want to go into. The last thing you want to do is to invest money. You should have a fund of knowledge of something and out of that you make up your mind. Money is not a fund of knowledge.” Kluge’s lifestyle represented this “fund of knowledge” wholeheartedly—his business endeavours, his family and friends and his art collecting all point to a man who understood and emulated a diverse and informed lifestyle. Those who knew him well knew that everything had a place in his life and came to him through an innate curiosity matched with an indefatigable work ethic. It is therefore so fitting that the university that helped shape Kluge’s future would be the place that he decided to give back. The collection being offered at Christie’s is part of a $400 million gift by Kluge to Columbia University, earmarked exclusively for student scholarships. Mr. Kluge’s gift to Columbia is one of the largest ever devoted exclusively to student aid at a single institution of higher education in the U.S. and represents his achievements, gratitude and hope for others to benefit from the university as he did.

Venice was undoubtedly the most alluring epicentre of the Grand Tour: thriving with history and refined architectural landscapes, the city never ceased to draw visitors from all over the globe. Its historic status as a maritime empire fuelled a powerful interchange of trade and cultural encounters between the West and the East, and as a result the city flourished. From the Middle Ages to the Renaissance, the Venetian School established its position as one of Europe’s most esteemed centres for art. Supported by a strong network of patrons, the city cultivated an array of talented artists who greatly influenced the development of Western art, including, to name a few, the Bellini brothers, Veronese, Titian, Giorgione and Tintoretto. Even today Venice’s cultural heritage seduces the artistic communities who are eager to learn from their great artistic forbears, and it comes as no surprise that Venice irrevocably captivated the imagination of Aivazovsky. Aivazovsky first visited Venice in the summer of 1840 as a recent alumnus of the Imperial Academy of Arts in St Petersburg. Having graduated with a gold medal, the artist received a highly sought-after pensioner allowance to spend six years abroad studying Western art. Aivazovsky embarked on his trip with his friend and fellow graduate, Vasily Sternberg (1818-1845). Italy was the first destination on his artistic expedition, a decision that was no doubt led by his veneration of Sylvester Shchedrin’s (1791-1830) oeuvre, the Russian landscape painter who was much influenced by the Italian school. Venice became the cornerstone of Aivazovsky’s trip, ignited by his insatiable passion for the sea. It was in the floating city that he was first inspired by the Flanders born genre of vedute, which had been brought to the pinnacle of perfection by the Canal and Guardi families of Venice. The artist would spend a great amount of time sketching Venetian views, which he would then revive in his canvases over the many years of his prolific career. Amongst the earliest examples of Aivazovsky’s Venetian views are View of a bay close to Venice, 1841 and Venice, 1842, both from the collection of the State Museum-Preserve Peterhof.
Venice also particularly resonated with Aivazovksy, as his elder brother Gabriel, who was a gifted scientist, philologist, linguist and historian, resided in the Mekhitarist monastery of San Lazzaro degli Armeni, an Armenian Catholic congregation founded there in the early XVIII century. Whenever an opportunity arose to travel in the Mediterranean, he would visit his brother there.
Renowned for his ability to paint from memory within the comfort of his own studio, which was especially equipped for large-scale canvases, Aivazovsky rarely sought to achieve topographical accuracy of a given place; rather, he aimed to convey its very essence and atmosphere, which he combined with his characteristic penchant for depicting angles from the water. In Venice at sunset the artist showcases Venetian landmarks to the service of his compositional needs, as the golden light of the setting sun casts reflections on the still waters of the Adriatic lagoon.
In this magnificent painting, a sublime vista of La Serenissima unfolds in the distance before the spectator. Particularly striking among the buildings are the iconic Gothic façade of the Palazzo Ducale, which, for a thousand years served as the residence of the Doge – the supreme authority of the former sovereign state of the Venetian Republic; and the opulent Byzantine domes of the Basilica di San Marco, which rise above the Doge’s palace, safeguarding the city’s highly-treasured relics of St Mark the Evangelist from Alexandria. Similarly noteworthy is the sunlit Renaissance façade of the Biblioteca Marciana which beautifully offsets the granite columns of Piazzetta di San Marco, surmounted with the patron saints of the city: Saint Mark, symbolised by The Lion of Venice, on the right, and Saint Theodore, the city’s former patron saint, on the left. The spire of the Campanile di San Marco is capped with a weathervane in the shape of the archangel Gabriel, which, importantly, indicates the wind direction for passing sailing boats.
The hazy silhouette of the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute, erected to commemorate the city’s deliverance from the devastating outbreak of the plague in 1630, fades in the rays of the setting sun, marking the meeting point of the Grand and Giudecca Canals. The campanile of the Basilica di San Giorgio Maggiore dominates the sky in the centre of the composition, while the white marble of the Palladian façade casts distinct reflections on the water. Veiled in mist, the island of the Giudecca stretches out on the left.
The artist suggests the bustling life of the port by placing several high-mast sailing boats in the background, and filling the lagoon with navigating gondolas, capturing their cheerful gondoliers manoeuvring remi, perhaps while humming traditional barcaroles, in a rush to bring the passengers to their destinations. By contrast, the gondola in the foreground peacefully skims through the still mirror-like surface of the water, as the passengers quietly and contentedly enjoy their journey through the majestic city. The elaborately carved wooden ornament on the prow, designed to counterweight the gondolier at the stern, casts golden reflections on the turquoise water of the lagoon, adding a lyrical warmth to this sublime vista.

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