signed lower left
oil on canvas
Painted by Russia's most celebrated marine artist, Ivan Aivazovsky, this major work shows Greek brigantines battling through a violent storm. The lights of the distant shore and the sunlight glowing behind the mountains and illuminating the water represent possible salvation, while the terrifying waves and enormous, jagged mountain peaks emphasise the grandeur and merciless power of Nature. An acute Romantic sensibility is married to fastidious attention to detail, both attributes for which Aivazovsky was widely admired and imitated.
The Greek ensign, introduced by the First Greek National Assembly on 15 March 1822, flies proudly from the ship in the centre amidst the chaos. This work could be interpreted as a metaphor for the Greek struggle for independence against the Ottomans: the packed brig, battered by violent waves, recalls the struggle of the small Greek nation against its powerful oppressors.
In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, revolutionary feeling was awakened by events such as the triumph of the French Revolution. A sense of Greek nationalism grew with the weakening of the Ottoman Empire, and European philhellenes embraced the idea of a revival in the power and glory of the Greece of antiquity. The Greek War of Independence (1821-29) was fought against the Ottoman Empire to establish an autonomous Greek state, and captured the imagination of countless Europeans, sympathetic to the cause, amongst them writers, such as Lord Byron, and artists.
Aivazovsky was invited to Constantinople in 1845 by Abdülaziz I (1830-1876), Sultan of the Ottoman Empire. Commissions from the Sultans led to Aivazovsky travelling to Turkey eight times between 1845-90. He was decorated with the Osmanie by Abdülaziz I, and at least thirty of the works commissioned by the Ottoman court now hang in the Ottoman Imperial Palace, the Dolmabahce Museum and various other Turkish museums. Aivazovsky was exposed to the history of the Greek-Ottoman conflict while travelling the Mediterranean and Aegean Sea during these sojourns.
Aivazovsky enjoyed the patronage of both the Sultan and Nicolas I of Russia (1796-1855). Born in Theodosia, a busy port on the Black Sea, Ivan Aivazovsky's passion for the sea was encouraged by his teachers at the St Petersburg Academy of Arts. He displayed great artistic ability at an early age, studying under the landscape artist M.N. Vorobiov. Aivazovsky's knowledge of, and appreciation for, marine subjects originated in his first-hand observation of the Baltic Sea Fleet manoeuvres in 1839, Aivazovsky participated in these military exercises and eventually became the official artist of the Russian navy. During his lifetime he achieved world-wide fame, not only being showered with accolades in Russia and the Ottoman Empire, but exhibiting in Paris where he was awarded the Legion of Honour in 1857.
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