The stormy, large and engulfing waves of the Baltic Sea, the Black Sea and the Crimean Sea have been a tremendous inspiration for Aivazovsky making this subject matter, followed by scenes of the Ottoman capital, Constantinople, the tour de force of the artist. The storm, with its raw power and ability to bring about total destruction represents the unbeatable force of nature. The transparent wave is beautiful and overpowering in its size and draws the viewer in as it would draw in and devour a sailor. The shipwreck is the ultimate culmination of the struggle of the manmade versus the powers of nature. Man and his creation, the ship, which he relies on so heavily for his survival, have been defeated.
Aivazovsky is perhaps the most successful and popular of Russia's 19th Centurty painters, enjoying both imperial patronage as well as commercial success. Aivazovsky's interest in painting and the sea go hand in hand. As early as 1839, Aivazovsky took part in the Black Sea Fleet maneuvers and sailed off with the navy in order to study and paint the sea. By 1844, by the "Tsar's edict he was attached to the Chief Naval Staff with the title of painter to the Staff and with the right to wear the uniform of the naval ministry" (N. Novouspensky, Aivazovsky, Leningrad, 1980, p. 10). In 1842, during a trip to Italy, Aivazovsky met the famous British marine painter, Joseph Mallord William Turner, who was so struck by Aivazovsky's Bay of Naples that he dedicated a rhymed eulogy: "Of a mighty king!/Forgive me if I err, great artist,/Your picture has entranced me so,/Reality and art are one,/And I am all amazement./So noble, powerful is the art/That only genius could inspire!" (Novouspensky, op. cit., p. 8). One of Aivazovsky's largest canvasses is The Ninth Wave, which was commissioned by Nicholas I for the Imperial Hermitage and it is one of the central attractions of the Museum today.