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The Aivasovsky Gallery in Feodosia
Aivasovsky was born in 1817 in Feodosia - originally the Greek settlement of Theodosia - at the eastern end of the Crimean coast. His father was an Armenian merchant and his mother a skilled embroiderer, but at the time young Ivan was born the port was still recovering from the economic downturn caused by the plague in 1812, and the family were not at all well off. The young boy grew up in a town which was a colourful mix of Greeks, Russians, Armenians, Turks and Tatars, all trying to scratch a living and he probably had to work to help the family out from an early age. He quickly developed an aptitude for music and art, but had no money for paper and instead sketched in charcoal on the white walls of houses.
Eventually his talent came to the attention of the governor of Feodosia, A. I. Kaznacheev, who placed the boy at school in Simferopol and later successfully petitioned the Academy of Arts in St Petersburg for a place for him. Aivasovsky did well at the Academy and his work was noticed by the poet Alexander Pushkin who visited the Academy exhibition in 1836. St Petersburg was a fertile seed-bed for the young artist, and it was during this time that he became friends with the composer Mikhail Glinka and made the acquaintance of writers such as Gogol and Krylov.
On completing his studies he was awarded a travelling scholarship, but with the unusual condition that he should first spend two summers in Crimea perfecting his painting from nature. This he did, and his letters at the time are full of enthusiasm for the inspiration he found in the Crimean landscape. He also took part in the manoeuvres of the Russian squadron near the Caucasian coast and made large numbers of sketches for future paintings, sometimes sketching during actual raids `armed with nothing but a pistol, and a portfolio of drawing paper and artists materials'.
After his two years in Crimea, Aivasovsky toured Europe and fell in love with the southern Italian coast. He produced more than 20 paintings around the Bay of Naples and the Amalfi coast, making the acquaintance of the Russian painter Ivanov, who was living in Rome at the time. Ivanov recognised his talent, commenting that "nobody here paints water like he does..."
By his late twenties Aivasovsky had already made his name as far as painting was concerned. Pope Gregory XVI bought his Chaos (the Creation of the World) for the Vatican museum. The English landscape painter Joseph Turner was so struck by his picture The Bay of Naples on a Moonlit Night that he wrote him a short poem in italian praising its genius. When he was not yet 30 he returned to Russia to become a professor at the St Petersburg Academy, breaking his journey in Amsterdam to hold an exhibition and to be elected to the Amsterdam Academy too.
Aivasovsky did not make his permanent home in St Petersburg, preferring to return to live in Feodosia where he had grown up. Here he set up his studio and founded an art school.
He made a point of only painting from memory, allowing his imagination to influence the image on canvas. Aivasovsky felt strongly that "an artist who only copies from nature becomes her slave...The motion of the living elements is too elusive for the artist's brush: it would be senseless to try to paint a flash of lightning, a gust of wind or the splash of a wave from nature... The painter must remember them...The subject of a painting takes shape in my memory like the subject of a poem takes shape in a poet's: having made a sketch on a scrap of paper I set to work and I only leave the canvas when I'm happy that my brush has expressed what is in my mind."
The Aivasovsky Gallery in Feodosia:
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