It is interesting to compare Aivazovsky with the Russian artist Sylvester Shchedrin, who died in Italy only ten years before Aivazovsky set foot on Italian soil. Shchedrin had broken with the academic tradition of conventional landscapes in the 1820s. His pictures had been painted directly from life and combined severe realism with a certain sense of poetry. Shchedrin was idolized by those young artists who yearned to achieve truth in their art. Aivazovsky's favorite subject-matter was very close to that of Shchedrin, and he too was under the spell of his great predecessor. It was his aim to follow in Shchedrin's footsteps.
The underlying principle of Shchedrin's endeavor was to paint strictly from life. This was the way Aivazovsky had painted in the Crimea and this was the way he began to paint in Italy. Wishing to discover the secret of Shchedrin's art, he even tried painting a landscape from exactly the same spot as Shchedrin (The Coast at Amalfi). However, being a man of different temperament and a product of another age, Aivazovsky could not become another Shchedrin.
A picture might be accurate and exact, but it would be sterile without the pulse of life within it. The viewer would see familiar places and painstakingly reproduced details, but would remain indifferent to what he saw. Instead of copying direct from nature, then, Aivazovsky tried to create a picture of the shimmering, leaping sea from memory in his studio. A miracle occurred—it was as if the sea had really begun to sparkle and shimmer, filled with incessant movement. The artist had discovered his own method of depicting nature from memory, even without preliminary studies, limiting himself to hurried pencil sketches.
Justifying his method theoretically, the artist observed: "The movement of the elements cannot be directly captured by the brush—it is impossible to paint lightning, a gust of wind, or the splash of a wave, direct from nature. For that the artist must remember them..."
Aivazovsky's phenomenal power of recall and his romantic imagination enabled him to employ this method with unsurpassed brilliance. At the same time, the speed and ease with which he painted caused him to repeat himself occasionally allowing elements of cliche and salon prettiness to creep in. A pupil of the Academy, Aivazovsky could not entirely free himself of the tendency to "improve" on reality. On the whole, however, the method invented by Aivazovsky suited both his creative idiom and the spirit of the times. Very quickly he reached the peak of his fame.