While still a student, Aivazovsky had been attracted by the romance of sea battles and the proud beauty of sailing ships. His work in Sauerweid's class and participation in the exercises of the Baltic Sea fleet had encouraged him still further. In the Crimea Aivazovsky now had the chance to return to his favourite themes. The commander of the Caucasus Coast Line, N. Rayevsky suggested to Aivazovsky that he take part in the exercises of the Black Sea fleet. During 1839 he went to sea three times, painted a great deal from nature, and made the acquaintance of admirals M. Lazarev, V. Kornilov and P. Nakhimov. The Russian navy welcomed him with open arms and thereafter was to treat both artist and man with the greatest respect.
By the mid-1840s Aivazovsky's links with the Russian Navy grew stronger. He was revered by the Navy in a way unparalleled in the history of art. In 1846, for example, the Navy marked the tenth anniversary of Aivazovsky's artistic career: Admiral Kornilov sent a special squadron of battleships from Sevastopol to congratulate the artist.
The years 1846—48 witness a series of outstanding canvases devoted to battles at sea, all based on the heroic past of the Russian fleet. These pictures betray no trace of the cliches usually adopted by official battle-artists; they convey the excitement and romantic uplift evoked in the artist's mind by scenes of mortal conflict. This is particularly evident in The Battle of Chesme, depicting a sea battle at night. The defeated Turkish fleet set alight by a Russian fire-ship is an unusually impressive spectacle, Aivazovsky's mastery of light effects being used to the full. Flames reflected in the clouds vie with the moonrays and the columns of smoke rising up into the sky. Crimson and black merge in the general confusion. It should be added that even in Aivazovsky's best pictures, elements of the academic tradition made themselves felt. Here it can be detected not only in the spectacular display of the battle but in the conventional poses of Turkish sailors trying to keep afloat on fragments of their doomed ship.
Another of this group of pictures, entitled The Battle in the Chios Channel is full of inner tension. Here Aivazovsky very skillfully achieved the effect of depth by alternating the silhouettes of near and distant ships. A third picture painted at the same time is Meeting of the Brig Mercury with the Russian Squadron After the Defeat of Two Turkish Battleships where the battle is already over. A small ship with battered sails is returning to the main Russian fleet (visible on the horizon) after successfully undertaking a heroic raid.
The Battle of Chesme and The Battle in the Chios Channel took place in the summer of 1770 between the Russian and Turkish fleets. The Turks were completely defeated and Russia got control over the Black Sea.