Property from a Private European Collection
IVAN KONSTANTINOVICH AIVAZOVSKY
THE BAY OF NAPLES
signed in Cyrillic and dated 1878 l.r.; further signed and dated on the reverse
oil on canvas
Canvas: 144 by 208.5cm, 56 3/4 by 82in.
Framed: 147.5 by 211.5cm, 58 by 83 1/4 in.
The present work is included in the numbered archive of the artist's work compiled by Gianni Caffiero and Ivan Samarine.
Please note: Condition 11 of the Conditions of Business for Buyers (Online Only) is not applicable to this lot.
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The following condition report is provided by Hamish Dewar who is an external specialist and not an employee of Sotheby's:
The canvas is unlined and is securely attached to a keyed wooden stretcher. The
turnover and tacking edges have been strengthened with a thin strip lining. This is providing a stable structural support and it is obviously most encouraging to find the canvas is in its original unlined state.
There are very faint stretcher-bar lines which are entirely stable and are really only visible in a strong raking light and are almost inevitable on an unlined canvas of this period.
The paint surface has an even varnish layer.
Inspection under ultraviolet light shows minimal spots and lines of inpainting, including a thin horizontal line in the sky which is approximately 5 cm in length and two diagonal lines near to the left vertical turnover edge which are approximately 4.5 and 3 cm in length and a small spot, measuring approximately 1 x 0.5 cm, to the left of the man in the rowing boat near to the shore.
There are more concentrated retouchings on the left and right vertical turnover edges and an area of retouching in the sky between the right vertical turnover edge and the sails of the large ship on the right of the composition. There is also a thin horizontal line on the horizon. It should be stressed that the retouchings are all carefully applied and of minimal size on a painting of this scale.
There are faint pencil lines showing the artist's under drawing including some around the masts and sails of the boats.
The painting would therefore appear to be in very good and stable condition having been carefully and minimally treated in the past and no further work is required.
The lot is sold in the condition it is in at the time of sale. The condition report is provided to assist you with assessing the condition of the lot and is for guidance only. Any reference to condition in the condition report for the lot does not amount to a full description of condition. The images of the lot form part of the condition report for the lot provided by Sotheby's. Certain images of the lot provided online may not accurately reflect the actual condition of the lot. In particular, the online images may represent colours and shades which are different to the lot's actual colour and shades. The condition report for the lot may make reference to particular imperfections of the lot but you should note that the lot may have other faults not expressly referred to in the condition report for the lot or shown in the online images of the lot. The condition report may not refer to all faults, restoration, alteration or adaptation because Sotheby's is not a professional conservator or restorer but rather the condition report is a statement of opinion genuinely held by Sotheby's. For that reason, Sotheby's condition report is not an alternative to taking your own professional advice regarding the condition of the lot.
Private collection, Germany
Zurich, Koller Auktionen, 19th Century Paintings, Russian Art, Icons, 19 September 2008, lot 3209
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
G.Caffiero and I.Samarine, Light, Water and Sky: The Paintings of Ivan Aivazovsky, London: Alexandria Press, 2012, pp.186-187 illustrated; p.304 illustrated and listed as CS-1878-009
G.Caffiero and I.Samarine, Neizvestny Aivazovsky: k 200-letiyu so dnya rozhdeniya, Moscow: SLOVO, 2016, p.201 illustrated; p.377 illustrated and listed as CS-1878-009
By 1878, when Ivan Aivazovsky painted The Bay of Naples, he had not just found fame both in Russia and abroad; he had come to define the genre of seascape painting and redefine its place in Russian art.
At over 2 metres wide the present lot is one of the largest paintings by Aivazovsky to appear on the open market and is instantly recognisable as a work by his hand. It combines many of the elements for which he is best known and which continue to resonate with the public today, more than a century after the artist’s death. These include the diffuse sunlight filling a hazy sky which here occupies two thirds of the canvas, and the reflection of light on the calm, only slightly rippling water.
The sea in all its states, the depiction of its movement, and the play of light on water are the central motifs in Aivazovsky’s oeuvre. He was equally brilliant at depicting stormy seas in dramatic moonlight, often juxtaposing mankind with nature in true Romantic fashion, as at rendering the effects of sunlight on calm water.
Even in his later work, dating from the period when France came under the sway of the Impressionists, Aivazovsky stayed true to his Romantic roots. Early on in his career he had abandoned painting from nature, and he wasn’t interested in capturing the passing effects of light. When working in his studio, he relied on his visual memory and his imagination, claiming that it was impossible to capture the elements with a brush. The role of the artist was to memorise and subsequently use them in his paintings: ‘The subject of a painting takes shape in my mind, just like the subject for a poem in that of a poet’s’ (Quoted in Bulgakov, 1901, p.26).
This also explains why geographical details were secondary for Aivazovsky, and often not accurate; rather he drew on memories gathered over his long life and career. With the warm southern light and the distinctly Italian dress of the figures in the foreground, the present view has been traditionally identified as the coastline of Southern Italy, but the hills are equally reminiscent of the artist’s native Crimea.