The collection of pictorial art of the Central Naval Museum contains over 20 paintings by the seascape artist. The portrait of Vice-Admiral M.P. Lazarev created in 1839 pertains to the commencement of the artist's creative path, when a young academy graduate Ovanes Gayvazyan took part in the Caucasian expedition of General N.N. Rayevsky. In the portrait Lazarev is depicted full-length on the deck of ship "Silistria". Having a small size of the canvas, the portrait is painted according to the laws of the ceremonial portrait and conveys the significance of the admiral’s personality. Two canvases depicting coastal cities - "Kronstadt Raid. Fort "Emperor Alexander I" and "Sveaborg" – are the first paintings executed by Aivazovsky in 1844 by the order of Emperor Nicholas I, immediately after returning from his graduate trip to Europe.
In the hall one may see the paintings of historical and battle genres, telling about the everyday life of seamen in the peacetime. "Battle of Steamship "Vesta" and Turkish Ironclad "Fethi-Bulend", "Capturing of the Turkish Ship "Mersina" by Steamer "Russia" are the paintings created very quickly during the Russian-Turkish war of 1877- 1878. In later life Aivazovsky often turned to the memories of the happy years of his youth. The master created a number of works reminding of the former greatness of the Russian sailing fleet and the sovereign Nicholas I, such as "Maneuvers of the Black Sea Fleet" (1886), "Squadron of the Black Sea Fleet before entering into Sevastopol Bay” (1895).
The seascape painter often visited the Baltic, Black and Mediterranean seas, crossed the Atlantic Ocean; observed sunrises and sunsets, storms and calms, moonlit nights and clear days - they became his favourite motifs forming the sea symphony of the painter. All of the artist's works are permeated with music and poetry. Aivazovsky played musical instruments himself, and maybe because of this his paintings, especially those depicting moonlit nights, are associated with nocturnes, the favourite pieces of music of romantic composers. The canvas "Moonlit Night" with the image of Constantinople (Istanbul) reveals the unique individuality of the master of "lunar paths". The numerous mosques and minarets, the domed church of Aya Sofya, the spicy smells of bazaars, the oriental clothes attracted Aivazovsky more than Italian cities, as he confessed.
Most of all he liked to depict the beauty and power of gales and storms. The number of paintings devoted to this theme exceeds 4,000. The plot of the picture "The Wreck of Ship "Ingermanland" in Skagerrake" (1860s) is based on a real event that took place in August 1842 near the Norwegian coast. The ship "Ingermanland" clashed against the rocks in a stormy weather. 389 people perished tragically. Aivazovsky depicted one of the most dramatic moments of the disaster. "Shipwreck near Mount Athos" refers to fictional works that were born as the artist's fantasied in his studio. In the paintings of that kind, the artist combined the romantic features with a realistic vision; the tragedy comes along with hope in them, the man comes across the elements.
The artist was attracted by biblical and evangelical plots. The exhibition presents a work "Shipwreck of Lefort"; according to the artist’s and the customer’s plan (it was ordered by the naval officers of Kronstadt), it was to be placed in the Kronstadt chapel. The image of a ship that sank in the Baltic in 1857 was to be perceived as a requiem to all those who perished at sea. But Alexander II ordered to hang it "for its status of a picture" in Kronstadt Maritime Assembly.
In 1852 I.K. Aivazovsky created some small-format pictures (28 x 38.5 cm). The works captured the moments of Nicholas I’s visiting Sevastopol shortly before the Crimean War. The artist himself was present at a steam frigate "Vladimir" together with the emperor and the grand dukes. St. Petersburg publisher A.M. Prevo printed lithographs of these pictures. The exhibition presents some sheets of this series, donated in 1962 to the Central Naval Museum by a former Russian officer, 1st Rank Captain P. Keller. Several paintings of this series were lost during the Great Patriotic War. Only the lithographs have preserved their image.
The exhibition presents the graphic works from the State Memorial Estate "Peterhof", for the first time in St. Petersburg. Fourteen drawings by I.K. Aivazovsky, depicting the port cities of Nikolaev and Sevastopol, were executed in 1845-1846. The graphic series preceded the execution of the royal order commissioned to Aivazovsky - to commemorate the views of Black Sea ports. The artist was assigned to the retinue of Emperor Nicholas I; "he was commanded to accompany the Emperor during the naval manoeuvres and inspection of the fleet in the Black Sea for drawing paintings". The on-location graphic sheets appeared in parallel with the picturesque canvases. In addition to documentary thoroughness, they are distinguished by virtuosity of execution. Using only a graphite-pencil drawing, without resorting to chiaroscuro, Aivazovsky achieved the finest transition of effects in depicting the volume and depth.
The exhibition "The Sea Symphony by Ivan Aivazovsky" invites the viewer to meet with the master's canvases once again, to plunge into the water and sky elements and to ponder over the phenomenon of the artist who has remained one of the most popular and beloved in the world for almost 200 years.