In 1899 Aivazovsky wrote to his biographer Nikolai Kuzmin: 'Even in deep old age I still have a strong passion within me and I work constantly' (quoted in G. Caffiero and I. Samarine, Light, Water and Sky. The paintings of Ivan Aivazovsky, London, 2012, p. 325). Indeed as Storm on the Black Sea demonstrates, the sea in all of its incarnations provided inspiration to this mighty artist from the earliest stage of his artistic career until the very last days of his life. He was endlessly captivated by its ever-changing essence, which he skilfully captured in the numerous seascapes that lie at the heart of his artistic oeuvre.
Immensely successful during his lifetime, by 1899 Aivazovsky had enjoyed the patronage of successive generations of Russian rulers, gained a powerful international recognition and was lauded by art critics as the greatest maritime artist of his time. Benefiting from his high social status and financial means, he founded an art school and an art gallery in his hometown, the Crimean port city of Feodosia, sponsored the construction of a railway in the region and significantly contributed to the overall improvement and development of the city. Alongside these philanthropic endeavours and despite his age, the artist spent his last years fiercely working on his estate in Feodosia.
Storm on the Black Sea is a powerful painting and one of the last examples demonstrating Aivazovsky's ability to convey to canvas the overwhelming and unruly power of the sea, his talent allowing him to breathe life into the roaring water. In this dramatic work, one can almost feel the boisterous gust of wind announcing the approaching storm. Translucently painted turquoise waves in the foreground give way to the advancing swell of the raging Black Sea. An atmosphere of impending foul weather is expressed via the dark blue and, in places, almost black colours of the stormy sky; flocks of shearwaters ominously swirl above the thickly painted perilous rocks that could serve as a much needed escape from the merciless waves or just as easily provide a danger of their own to rival that of the water. The vast expanse of churning ocean confronts the viewer with its infinite power and once again illustrates the helplessness of man against the power of nature.