Feeling salty taste of sea waves
By Victor Mikhailov
One floor of the amphitheatre is devoted to over sixty pictures by Aivazovsky and his contemporaries. He began work in the early 19th century but his major period of artistry was in the late 1800s. Other masters popular at the time were Alexey Bogolyubov and Rufin Sudkovsky, who were seen as presenting a more authentic depiction of the sea’s power, the seashore and ships, being less romantic. Lev Lagorio — Aivazovsky’s pupil — departed from his romantic traditions, being attracted by simplicity of composition and a restrained palette (On the Seashore).
“The sea is my element,” Aivazovsky once said. His numerous paintings form a ‘sea encyclopaedia’. “I’ve always felt the poetry of nature and try to show it with my brush: I’m equally inspired by the charm of a southern night sky or sunset, or the horror of a storm,” he admitted. The power of the sea to soothe or destroy is shown fully in his works: pacifying and calm in Misty Morning, Marina and Morning at Sea yet dazzling and mysterious in Moonlit Night in Amalfi, and Night on the Island of Rhodes, and severe and raging in Storm. Each is depicted skilfully and poetically. “The plot of each painting forms in my head like that of a poem. Having made a sketch on a piece of paper, I settle down to work and don’t leave the canvas until I’ve expressed myself with the brush,” he explained. Undoubtedly, he always rouses the strongest of emotions. His seascapes are stirring to the soul, truly recreating the feel of waves beating upon rocks, rosy sunsets over the ocean and sea mists.
In fact, late 19th-early 20th century art was diverse, following numerous trends and combining various approaches. Colour played a significant role for Nikolay Dubovskoy, whose works are also on show, full of ease and airiness (Seashore. Steamer. Sketch and Sea Landscape) or extreme intensity (Sea). He created a wealth of effects using colour.
Among those who sought to present nature realistically was Vasily Surikov — another master of colour. His use of proportion and harmony in his watercolour Seashore. Crimea is stunning. Meanwhile, the Sea by Arkhip Kuindzhi springs to life off the canvas, via the clever use of colour and light. Amsterdam (1885) by Valentin Serov is sharply perceived, while rejecting stereotypes. Finally, Konstantin Korovin’s wonderful freshness and expression are surely the result of the time he spent painting outside.
In the 20th century, artists were drawn by the unobtrusive landscapes of the North, some portraying the Arctic. Each had their own unique style. Albert Benois’ White Sea makes us feel the eternal nature of the depths while Leonard Turzhansky’s works plunge us into a grey and brown impenetrable wall (Northern Night. Murmansk Shore). We feel an ethereal pearl-blue expanse in Vitold Byalynitsky-Birulya’s poetic Barents Sea, which shows the shore sinking in the far mist. Herbert Silinsh’s To Fishing Place Region also gives a striking interpretation. Each work discloses the harsh and fascinating beauty of the North.
The southern seas, with their particular atmosphere and bright sunshine, also inspired great works: Aristarkh Lentulov’s Morning in Batumi Harbour, Grigory Nissky’s Sevastopol. Embankment, Mikhail Kupriyanov’s Genichesk. Arabatskaya Strelka, Genichesk. Fishermen’s Boats, and Nadir Kasumov’s Rocks. Sozopol.
No doubt, the sea’s power is diverse, variable and infinitely attractive to artists. Aivazovsky’s works give a romantic, emotional view of nature while realists and 20th century impressionists give us something different again. The present show at the National Art Museum is truly outstanding in featuring Aivazovsky’s works. His contemporaries recollected that he could draw a picture in just 90 minutes — in ‘a single breath’. Meanwhile, those seeking to reproduce his works can take six months or more. Fakes are detected by how long it has taken the paint to dry (since originals were created within a single day).
The present exhibition showcases only originals — from the National Art Museum. These treasures are worthy of envy. Guests are sure to enjoy Ivan Aivazovsky’s masterpieces, plunging into his sea depths, while being warmed by the charming sun and marvelling at wonderful southern nights.