Aivazovsky's student days in St Petersburg coincided with a confused and in many ways contradictory phase in Russian history. On the one hand it was a period of harsh tyranical rule and political stagnation under Tsar Nicholas I, on the other it witnessed a great flowering of Russian culture, beginning after the Napoleonic War of 1812. This was the age of Pushkin, Gogol, Lermontov, Belinsky, Glinka and Brulloff.
The great success of Karl Brulloff 's picture
The Last Day of Pompeii
made a lasting impression on Aivazovsky, summing up as it did the victory of the Romantic school in Russian painting. Both the picture and Brulloff himself played an important part in stimulating Aivazovsky's own creative development. Furthermore, Aivazovsky was brought up in the romantic spirit by his teacher in the Academy landscape class, M. Vorobyov. In general Russian art of the first half of the nineteenth century combined Romanticism with Realism and very often both principles found expression in an artist's works. This was especially evident in landscape painting, an essentially realist art form which continued romantic features for a long time. Aivazovsky acquired a romantic outlook in his student years and maintained it in maturity. He remained to the end one of the most faithful disciples of Romanticism, although this did not prevent him from evolving his own form of realism.
By the 1850s the romantic element in Aivazovsky's work had become even more apparent. This is clearly seen in one of Aivazovsky's best and most famous pictures, The Ninth Wave.
Also best and famous picture is The Sea. Koktebel (1853).
of the series "Cimmerian spring"
As in the tiny shell – the Ocean
With mighty breathing hums, concealed inside,
As flesh of her is flickering and burns
With silver shimmer of the air of foggy,
And curvatures of her reiterate
Their look in movements and in curls of waves, –
So in your harbors my entire soul,
Oh Cimmerian country dark of mine,
Is captivated and transfigured truly.
Since being adolescent by the silent
The solemn, godforsaken shores
I woke up – my soul opened widely,
And thought was grown up and shaped, and sculptured
On folds of rocks, on curvatures of hills,
The fire of the depths and rainy moisture
With double chisel your appearance built –
Monotonous formation of the hills
And strain of Kara-Dag's intensive pathos.
Indented concentration of the rocks
Along with prairies and flickering expances
Gave freedom to my verse and measure to my thought.
Since then are saturated with my dreams
Heroic reveries of drowsing foothills
And stone mane of wistful Koktebel;
His wormwood's getting drunken with my pang,
My verse is singing in the surging ocean,
And on the rock, enclosing rippled harbor,
By fate and wind is sculptured my profile.
Translated by I.Larkov, 2007
... What is memorials of the Crimea? Ruins and landscape.
Neither of Europe countries have such a great amount of landscapes, varying by spirit and by style, and so closely concentrated on such a small piece of land. Even in Greece one can not find such a conciseness.
Barrows and knolls of sad shores of Bosphorus Cimmerian; salty lakes, driven out passages and stony ships of mountain Opuk; powdered as if with ripe wheat orange banks of Feodosian bay; Feodosia with black kremlin of Genoese fortifications; Koktebel with Venetian ruins and Gothic conglomeration of Kara-Dag; cape Meganom with nobly-dry, purely Greek outlines; Sudak with its romantic fortress – here is the mere cost of Cimmeria.
Let archaeologists sign by sign decrypt old stones under ashe of time and gradually restore complex and bright mosaic of history: their work will last long before they can make generalizations, understood by amateurs. The present – Russian – Crimea retains nothing from old cultures, except landscape; but in it possible to read all the past. It is a gorgeous book with pictures of a genius.
Maximilian Voloshin, 1924
Translated by I.Larkov, 2007