MacDougall Auctions 12-18 June 2008

12 June 2008

Artist Index / Full Catalogue

View of Odessa by Moonlight

25. AIVAZOVSKY, IVAN 1817-1900

View of Odessa by Moonlight signed and dated 1860.

Oil on canvas, 119 by 188 cm.

Authenticity certificate from the State Tretyakov Gallery, experts G. Churak and L. Gladkova.
Authenticity certificate from Vladimir Petrov.
Authenticity certificate from the State Russian Museum, experts G. Goldovsky and P. Klimov.

The theme of Odessa first appeared in the works of the great Russian seascape painter in early 1845, when Emperor Nicholas I expressed a wish for Aivazovsky to paint views of coastal ports, including Odessa, Sevastopol and Kerch. However, the commission had to be postponed, as in April the artist was sent on a voyage to Constantinople and the Greek archipelago with Grand Duke Constantine Nikolaevich and Admiral Litke.

The View of Odessa by Moonlight, “seen from the end of the jetty”, was painted by Aivazovsky in Crimea on his return from sea and exhibited first in Odessa, then in Feodosiya, where on 18 May 1846 an exhibition opened to mark the tenth anniversary of the artist’s work.

That same year, The View of Odessa by Moonlight and three other paintings by Aivazovsky were taken by Nicholas I for inclusion in the Imperial Hermitage (now in the collection of the Russian Museum). His virtuosic ability to convey the effect of moonlight playing on the clouds and lying like a path of light on the water, won the artist the rapturous acclaim of art critics and the many visitors to his exhibitions in Petersburg, Feodosiya and Odessa. One contemporary reviewer wrote of this painting in the Odessa Herald. “The longer one stands before the View of Odessa, the more it enchants the eye; the sea has so much life and movement in it, the light playing on its ripples is so natural, that one cannot but marvel how the artist was able to catch and transfer to canvas with such inimitable accuracy the charm of the southern moonlight”.

The artist, who often repeated his most successful and effective works, returned later to the depiction of night the scenes which formed a significant part of his work in the 1840s and made him as famous as his storms at sea and shipwrecks. He also often depicted coastal ports, particularly Odessa – romantically mysterious in the moonlight, according to the taste of the time. It is known that the canvas from the Imperial Collection which was hugely popular was repeated several times by the master himself for various commissions, with minor alterations to the composition. His replications from 1855, 1866 and 1884 are in the Kaluga and Nikolaev museums, as well as in private collections. Another version, whose authenticity is unconfirmed, is documented in the Morshansk Museum.

The 1860 View of Odessa by Moonlight represents the largest scale of the artist’s known replicas of the famous picture of 1846. While reproducing the main details of the original composition, it is distinguished by its individual treatment of colour.

Preserving the same viewpoint from the end of the jetty and even the detail of the sailboat rigging, with fine, precise, painterly strokes, Aivazovsky perfectly conveys the tangle of sail rigging, highlighting with specks of light the tall ships’ masts against the sky. Thus the artist develops the original compositional theme and changes its mood. Odessa Bay, permeated with a colder, transparent, pearl-yellow moonlight which alters the familiar colours and forms – the smooth surface of the water, the sky with its billowing clouds, the built-up quay looming in the distance – creates a dramatic spectacle tinged with romantic suspense.

Notes on symbols:
* Indicates 5% Import Duty Charge applies.
Ω Indicates 20% Import Duty Charge applies.
§ Indicates Artist's Resale Right applies.
† Indicates Standard VAT scheme applies, and the rate of 20% VAT will be charged on both hammer price and premium.