Description: PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE EUROPEAN COLLECTOR IVAN KONSTANTINOVICH AIVAZOVSKY, 1817-1900 THE SHIPWRECK
signed in Latin l.r. and also on reverse
oil on canvas
Sotheby's London, Nineteenth Century European Paintings, Drawings and Watercolours, 15th March 1989, lot 35.
Born in 1817, Ivan Aivazovsky grew up in Theodosia, a busy Black Sea port. From the small family house situated on a steep hill above the port Aivazovsky would have watched ships and boats arriving and leaving. In bad weather he would have witnessed the violence of the sea beating against the town and heard stories of those who had been caught up in the storms.
"I compose the subject of a painting in my memory, just as a poet does verse; having made a sketch on a piece of paper, I set to work, and do not leave the canvas, until I have expressed myself upon it with my brush..."
The offered lot is an extraordinary and important example of Aivazovsky's constant fascination with the theme of the shipwreck. Painted in 1888, the year after the important Jubilee Exhibition in St Petersburg, which celebrated his fifty years as a painter, the artist combines elements from three of his most famous pictures to create a dramatic new painting. The offered lot relates in composition to two iconic paintings, The Rainbow of 1873 (Fig. 1, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow) and The Storm at Mys Ai (Russian Museum, St. Petersburg). Both paintings depict survivors in a lifeboat sailing away from the foundering ship. Whilst the position of the lifeboat in relation to the ship in distress is closely related to the aforementioned two paintings, the colouring and mood of The Shipwreck should be compared to one of Aivazovsky's most famous compositions on this theme, The Ninth Wave (Fig. 2). Painted in 1850 it was acquired by Emperor Nicholas I, one of the artist's most important patrons and today hangs in the Russian Museum in St. Petersburg.
In a similar vein to The Ninth Wave, the ambiguity of the sailors' fate in the present work is palpable. The pink and orange light of the rising sun is symbolic of hope but the terrifying waves swelling to dramatic peaks and unfathomable in depth epitomise the sublime danger of the sea.
This experience of the Sublime plays an important role in many of Aivazovsky's most celebrated paintings. Defined as a state in which emotions are stretched to their limits - a sort of delightful horror- the sources of the Sublime can be vastness, infinity, power, obscurity, and magnificence. Man is no longer master but prey to forces many times stronger than himself. The sublime experience is only attractive with a glimpse of hope. The reassuring sunrise on the horizon in The Shipwreck gives the viewer this without lessening the drama of the crisis at hand.
Dimensions: 107 by 143cm., 42 by 56 1/4in.
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