(b Feodosiya [now Kaffa], July 29, 1817; d Feodosiya, June 2, 1900).
Russian painter of Armenian descent. The son of an Armenian merchant, throughout his life he kept his links with the ancient traditions of Armenian Christian culture. He studied at the Academy of Arts, St Petersburg, in 1833–7 under Maksim Vorob’yov (1787–1855), a prominent Russian landscape painter of the Romantic period. From 1845 Ayvazovsky worked predominantly in Feodosiya, an ancient city in the Eastern Crimea. He travelled widely in Russia and Europe, the Near East, Africa and America. Ayvazovsky’s first significant paintings testify to his attentive assimilation of the canons of Romantic seascape painting, going back to Claude Lorrain, as well as the influence of Vorob’yov and the late works of Sil’vestr Shchedrin. In Ayvazovsky’s early works the accurate rendering of views is combined with a classicist rationality of composition, as in View of the Seashore in the Environs of St Petersburg (1835; Moscow, Tret’yakov Gal.)
A purely Romantic view of the world and exaltation in the face of the boundless, eternally changing sea find mature expression in the works of the 1840s, when Ayvazovsky gained renown throughout Europe. A number of foreign academies made him an honorary member, and J. M. W. Turner wrote an enthusiastic ode in honour of one of his pictures. The best-known work of this period is the ...