“In his storms there is the thrill, the eternal beauty that startles a spectator in a real life storm […] when portraying the endless diversity of the storm, nothing can appear exaggerated.”
Fyodor Dostoevsky on Ivan Aivazovsky (as quoted from F. Dostoevsky, 'Exhibition in the Academy of Arts from 1860 to 1861', Vremia [Time], 1861, no. 10, pp. 108-141)
From ancient to modern times, the imagery of storms has formed a fundamental part of the expressive arsenal of writers and artists, often as a symbol of change, turmoil, retribution and despair. A storm is a perfect subject for Romantic artists to imbue their oeuvres with heightened emotion - indeed, the master of the marine, Ivan Aivazovsky, depicted the most melodramatic of storms to exhilarating effect. A particular admirer of Aivazovsky's stormy seascapes was the famed writer Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881), who was enthralled by the artist's incredible ability to paint from memory and from his imagination. Dostoevsky, whose works are laden with symbolic dreams, found parallels between his creative vision and Aivazovsky's imagined marines and landscapes.
Aivazovsky became increasingly interested in painting stormy seas and shipwrecks in the 1850s, and the present lot, Tempest, is characteristic of this period in his oeuvre. A related work on paper, also dated 1855 and titled Shipwrecks off the Rocks by a Fortified Tower (1855, Private collection) is illustrated in G. Caffiero and I. Samarine, Light, Water and Sky. The paintings of Ivan Aivazovsky, London, 2012, p. 277. With the furious flames engulfing the sinking ship, smote by powerful waves and flanked by an ominous tower, Aivazovsky seeks to both terrify and awe the viewer. According to the artist, the sea represented Mother Nature and her destructive will and power, which by extension underlines the frailty and mortality of human beings. However, at the lower right corner of the canvas, a number of sailors can be seen in a lifeboat escaping the shipwreck, adding an element of optimism to the composition: their inclusion suggests humanity's indomitable spirit and will to survive, even in the most dire of circumstances. The present lot's colour scheme is similar to Aivazovsky’s Creation of the World (1841, State Russian Museum, inv. ?-789) with its dark blue whirling waves dominating the composition and encircling a brilliant red primordial inferno. Additionally, the subject matter echoes the biblical theme of divine retribution explored by Aivazovsky in The Deluge (1864, State Russian Museum, inv. ?-2203) which portrays the demise of ungodly men during the Great Flood in the Book of Genesis. Both the present lot and The Deluge were conceived during Aivazovsky's trip to Osnova, although the latter was painted at a later date.
Born and raised in Feodosia, Crimea, Aivazovsky temporarily fled his beloved home in late 1854 to Kharkiv to escape the battlegrounds of the Crimean War (1853-1856). In the summer of 1855, Aivazovsky and his family moved to Osnova to the home of Valerian Kvitka (1778-1843), nephew of the well-known Ukrainian writer Hryhorii Kvitka-Osnovianenko (1778-1843). The settlement Osnova was bought by the Kvitkas in 1713 from the Donets-Zakhazhevskii family. Osnova existed on the outskirts of Kharkiv from the 17th century until the 1920s when it was subsumed into the city limits of Kharkiv.