Ivan Ayvazovsky Exhibition in Yerevan

A visit to the State Museum in Yerevan to view the works of Ayvazovsky (1817-1900) is a once in a lifetime experience. The collection comprises oil on canvas paintings of seascapes and studies in sepia ink and pencil.

On the second floor of the museum, divided into two sections, more than 100 works are hung on the walls. There are some artifacts, such as river stones and snuff boxes on which he painted landscapes. The collection comes from different sources, but mainly from the Yerevan State Museum and the Mekhitarians of San Lazzaro. Some works were donated by Abraham Djindjian.

Nothing, no book or lecture, can do justice to the majestic works of Ayvazovsky. No matter how profound the lecturer’s research, it shall look and sound marginal compared to one’s standing in front of these amazing works.

Ayvazovsky was a prolific painter who produced more than 6000 paintings. The viewer will be overwhelmed by the angry waves of the sea. Seascapes depicting ships at the mercy of storms are predominant. Some tall ships are destroyed and only few men are saved or marooned on wooden masts floating on the high seas. His moons are full. The moon rays are reflected on the waves of calmer seas, as well as high waves.

One of the most remarkable scenes depicts “Noah’s Descent from Mount Ararat” painted in 1886 which is also the image on the exhibition’s poster. Also remarkable is Byron’s visit to the Armenian Catholic Monastery of San Lazzaro outside of Venice which he painted relying only on his imagination. Ayvazovsky lived at the monastery for a while and donated many of his works to the Monastery.

I first saw an Ayvazovsky painting at the Belmont Armenian Evangelical Church. I was humbled and proud to think that we shared the same DNA. Many claim ownership of this giant genius. Russians believe he was one of them. Ukrainians are so convinced he is Ukrainian that they named a street after his name. But the fact remains that he was the son of an Armenian family baptized according to the rites of the Armenian Church. He felt Armenian and visited Armenia and there he painted the twin peaks of Ararat.

Ayvazovsky was underappreciated in the West. Sotheby’s Catalogue of February 1985 estimated his “Entering the Harbor” (oil on canvas, 65 by 82 cm) at 6000 to 9000$. He is listed as a Russian painter. This could be due to the “Iron Curtain”.

He exhibited his works in many cities. He even visited Egypt and the Unites States of America. Accolades were bestowed on him from many countries among them the Ottoman Empire. Upon hearing the news of the massacres committed by the Turks, he threw away the Sultan’s medals in the sea and made sure the news reached the Sultan’s ears.

The style of Ayvazovsky, according to some, belongs to the school of romantic painters while others categorize him as a realist. His works are reminiscent of the British painter William Turner (1775-1851) but differ in style and rendition.

While visiting and enjoying the exhibition, eavesdrop on the information teachers pass on to their young students.

One would like to venture in saying that a trip to Armenia only to visit the Ayvazovsky exhibition is worth one’s while.

The exhibition is open until January 15, 2018.

Souren Hadjian

Montreal, Canada

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