The era when the painting of ships at sea reached its height was during the 1800s. During that period, most painters, some or other time, also created marine and maritime art.
It is accepted between art lovers and scholars that paintings of ships at sea are capable of evoking strong emotions. As a result, art collectors often have more than one famous ship painting in their collections.
During this time, Ivan Aivazovsky, the nineteenth-century Armenian-Russian Romantic painter, became known as one of the greatest masters of marine art.
Background Regarding the Artist Aivazovsky (1817-1900)
During the 1800s, many artists painted ships and the sea, but only Ivan Aivazovsky was utterly devoted to it. He dedicated thousands of canvases to the sea and ships at sea. He painted sunsets and sunrises over the sea, sea storms, calm seas, shipwrecks, and sea battles. During his career as an artist for about 60 years, from the early 1840s until he died in 1900, he built his reputation as a master of marine and maritime art.
He was educated at the Imperial Academy of Arts in Saint Petersburg and, after his studies, traveled to Europe and lived for a short period in Italy in the early 1840s. Then he returned to Russia, where he was appointed the prominent painter of the Russian Navy.
He often attended military maneuvers because of his close ties with the Russian military and political elite. He was sponsored by the Russian state and was well-known during his lifetime. In addition, he was recognized as one of the best artists of the time in Russia and the rest of the world.
General Information Regarding Aivazovsky’s Art
During his 60-year career, Aivazovsky produced around 6,000 paintings. The majority of his works depicted the sea. But interestingly, it is believed that he nearly never painted his pictures of nature. Instead, he almost always painted from memory – far away from the seaboard.
He had an excellent artistic memory and reproduced what he had seen only for a short time on canvas. It is documented that he generally did not make drawings or even preliminary sketches.
Although Aivazovsky was primarily a Romantic painter, he also used some Realistic elements in his later works. However, most art scholars agree that, in principle, he stayed a Romantic painter throughout his life.
The Ninth Wave
“The Ninth Wave” is an 1850-painting by this famous Russian-Armenian marine painter. Art lovers and scholars agree that it is not only his best-known work but also one of the best paintings he has created. The name of the painting, namely “The Ninth Wave,” refers to an old sailing expression and belief that the ninth wave is a wave of an incredible size that comes after a succession of incrementally larger waves.
In this famous ocean scene painting, this ninth wave is fast approaching. But the night’s darkness is broken by the light of hope. In the light, a small group of people is seen clinging to the wreckage of the ship’s mast. The “feeling” is that the desperate attempts to survive will conquer the stormy sea.
Since its first exhibition, “The Ninth Wave” has also been interpreted allegorically. The painting has symbolized the faith in man’s victory, humanity, and life for many generations.
The artwork was one of the beautiful paintings of ships at sea in the collection of the Emperor Alexander III Russian Museum in 1897.
In the early 1870s, art critics said that Aivazovsky’s paintings and style were outdated. In response to that, he created one of his most famous boat paintings, namely “Rainbow”. This marked a new period in his work.
The painting depicts the wreck of a sailboat on the canvas. The picture is significantly different from his earlier ship paintings. With this artwork, he successfully modernized some of his old characteristics. The essential difference between this painting and his previous work is the color of the canvas.
Rocks wreck a ship on the center canvas, and in the boat, sailors are leaving, trying to escape. The splashes of water erode the silhouette of the wrecked ship due to a strong wind. It looks as if the stormy sky unites with the elements of the ocean.
In this painting, the artist replaced his favorite bright and juicy color solutions with shades of more calm, restrained, and well-developed color solutions. Aivazovsky created a living rainbow-bright but also bewitched and tender with the sunlight effects. The rainbow foreshadows salvation, and one man in the boat gratefully raises his hands to praise God.
Moonlight Night on Capri
On the canvas “Moonlight Night on Capri”, Ivan Aivazovsky depicted a night view, with all the lines smooth and delicate. The night promenade of captains and sailors on the moonlit path creates a coziness.
The central theme is the entire space that fills the water and the sky in the composition. The ships and boats are only added to a romantic image. Interestingly, if people look at the painting, they are often enticed to think of many stories about how and why there are ships and people here.
Aivazovsky’s famous ocean paintings are closely connected with the sea element. He liked to depict the sea in different conditions – mostly in storms. However, the ship oil painting “Calm” is seen as “a safe moment”. The sea is calm, and the family is resting on the beach. A child is swimming in the sea near the shore, and a boat appears on the horizon. The sun has already gone beyond the horizon. The sky, like the sea, is very calm. You can see pink, white, and blue shades in the sky reflected in the sea surface.
It remains a mystery how Aivazovsky succeeded in transmitting the colors of the water so realistically.
Aivazovsky was a very productive artist. Throughout his lifetime, he contributed over 6,000 paintings to the art world. The majority of these paintings are paintings of ships at sea.