Lot 6
  • 6

Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky

1,200,000 - 1,800,000 GBP
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  • View of Constantinople and the Bosphorus
  • signed in Cyrillic and dated 1856 lower right
  • oil on canvas
  • 124.5 by 195.5cm., 49 by 77in.


Sale: Sotheby's, London, 15 June 1995, lot 18
Purchased at the above sale by the present owner


Gianni Caffiero and Ivan Samarine, Aivazovsky: Seas, Cities and Dreams, London, 2000, p. 209, pl. 127, illustrated; pp. 186-7, p. 287, listed
Bank Austria Kunstforum, Aiwasowski, Maler des Meeres, (exh. cat.),Vienna, 2011, no. 13, illustrated


The following condition report has been provided by Hamish Dewar Ltd., of 13 & 14 Mason's Yard, London, SW1Y 6BU: UNCONDITIONAL AND WITHOUT PREJUDICE Structural Condition The canvas has been lined onto a new wooden keyed stretcher and this is ensuring an even and secure structural support without adversely affecting the surface textures and impasto. No further structural intervention is required. Paint surface The paint surface has an even varnish layer, apart from very minor frame rubbing. Inspection under ultraviolet light shows scattered retouchings which are all comparatively small for a painting of this size. Some of the retouchings are just visible in strong natural light and could therefore benefit from reglazing. The most significant of the scattered retouchings which are visible under ultraviolet light are: 1) an area in the sky which measures approximately 6 x 2 cm between the minarets of the Topkapi Palace, 2) a horizontal line, approximately 6.5 cm in length, running in from the left vertical framing edge, 3) a few small retouchings in the blue water between the boats in the lower left of the composition and some lines highlighting the details of the figures in the shadows in the lower right, and 4) a small area in the lower right corner between the signature and the lower horizontal framing edge. It should be stressed that these retouchings are of minimal size for a painting on this scale. Summary The painting would therefore appear to be in excellent and stable condition and the only work that might be required would be slight reglazing of some of the retouchings and revarnishing.
"This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."

Catalogue Note

A tour de force of Aivazovsky's evocation of light and atmosphere, this panoramic view of Constantinople is one of his most spectacular landscapes. Completed in 1856, the work was painted at the height of the artist's career. 

Aivazovsky first visited Constantinople in 1845 as part of his duties as official painter to the Russian Admiralty, a role to which he had been appointed eight years previously by Tsar Nicholas I. Aivazovsky travelled widely during his career, claiming that 'travelling...can only enhance the love of art.' He was to visit cities across Europe with the Admiralty, but felt a special affinity towards Constantinople, noting that 'There is probably nowhere in the world as majestic as that town, when you're there you forget about Naples and Venice.'

His first visit to the city came as part of an expedition along the Anatolian coast. During this voyage Aivazovsky made many sketches, which he worked up into paintings in his studio in his home town, Theodosia, situated just two hundred miles across the Black Sea from Constantinople. Having grown up in a busy port town, Aivazovsky felt a particular affinity to Constantinople. The cities were linked both culturally and economically and both hosted large Armenian communities, leading the Ottomans to refer to Theodosia as Küçük Stambul, or little Istanbul.

Encouraged by his tutor at the St. Petersburg Academy, Maxim Vorobiev (1787-1855), Aivazovsky preferred working from pencil sketches rather than en plein air. This meant that he was able to paint a different view of Constantinople almost every year of his life, depicting different views and varying light conditions. His father paid tribute to his skill in a letter to the critic Stasov, writing, 'I never even knew that he paints human figures so well; there is so much life everywhere, so much brilliance... He painted five enormous landscapes between 15 January and 19 May, spending only twenty-one days on Constantinople...I don't think there is another artist in Europe who surpasses Aivazovsky in this type of painting.'

One of the works to which his father was referring is his 1846 View of Constantinople in Moonlight, now in the State Russian Museum in St Petersburg (fig. 1). Both the present work and the St Petersburg painting originate from one sketch, showing as they do the Golden Horn from the same angle. These paintings are remarkably comparable compositionally, although the Nusretiye, or Victory Mosque, is shown from a different angle in the present work. Aivazovsky found the results of painting from life unrewarding, and would embark on a work only with the complete picture in mind, stating that, '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.'

View of Constantinople and the Bosphorus celebrates the beauty and dynamism of a busy port. The Nusretiye Mosque on the right, commissioned by Mahmut II to commemorate his abolition of the Janissary corps in 1826 and built by Kirkor Balyan, displays a distinctive blend of baroque and Islamic architecture, making it an important landmark for navigation of the Bosphorus. The mosque faces the Selimiye Barracks across the Bosphorus, which housed the New Army that replaced the Janissaries. The minarets were reconstructed in 1926 in order to make them taller, and devotional messages and lights would be hung between them so as to be visible by passing ships. Beyond the Nusretiye Mosque a three-masted ship lies at anchor at the mouth of the Golden Horn, beyond which Aivazovsky captures the skyline of Seraglio Point, the Topkapi Palace, and the Haghia Sophia and Blue Mosques backlit by the setting sun. 

The calm and serenity of the present work belies the fact that it was painted during the final year of the Crimean War. Despite having spent time making sketches in the besieged city of Sebastopol that year, Aivazovsky makes no reference to the conflict in his painting, instead recalling the Constantinople of peace time he had known ten years earlier. The artist had lived through three wars between Russia and Turkey, yet found himself in the peculiar position of being official painter to the Russian Admiralty, whilst at the same time under the patronage of the Sultans. Aivazovsky used his unique status to philanthropic effect, supporting the Orthodox Church in Turkey, and later in his life donating pictures to an exhibition aimed at helping Turkish Armenians.

In 1857, a year after completing this painting, Aivazovsky returned to Constantinople with his brother where he presented several similar works to the Sultan Abdülaziz, who hung them in the Dolmabahçe Palace. Aivazovsky's paintings adorned the palaces of both Russian Tsars and Turkish Sultans and it is fitting that the 1878 Treaty of San Stefano, which ended a two hundred-year history of Russo-Turkish conflict, was signed in a room hung with his canvases.