25 November 2012
View of Venice. San Giorgio Maggiore, signed and dated 1851.
Oil on canvas, 99.5 by 122.5 cm.
Provenance: Acquired by a senior Communist party official in the 1930s.
Thence by descent.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
Private collection, Europe.
Authenticity of the work has been confirmed by the expert V. Petrov.
The work will be included in the forthcoming monograph Light, Water and Sky by G. Caffiero and Samarine, to be published in November 2012.
Ivan Aivazovsky painted View of Venice. San Giorgio Maggiore in the early 1850s and it is entirely characteristic of the work of this artist who had then truly come to know the sweet taste of success in Europe. At this point in his career Aivazovsky had forsaken the charms of life in the capital (the gracious attention of the Imperial family, the plethora of high-profile commissions, the privileges associated with his academic standing) to return home to the Crimea, and every new canvas was met with a tide of public enthusiasm. Aivazovsky’s compositions were always positively received and art lovers rushed to commission copies of their favourite subjects from him.
View of Venice. San Giorgio Maggiore is one such variation, reworking a composition he had first hit upon in the 1840s. Its captivating calmness and technical perfection date back to the cycle of Venetian works he had painted during his time in Italy. However, despite the shared motifs and structural solutions of all the artist’s views of the Venice lagoon, Aivazovsky’s exceptional skill for improvisation allowed him to create an emotional resonance that is absolutely distinctive in this 1851 work by the development a “pink” colour range, characteristic of this new phase of his career.
Aivazovsky first visited Venice during a study trip to Italy in the second half of 1840. It is worth noting that even his first Venetian pictures did not replicate the veduta, but the landscape – the lagoon, trees, gondolas – motifs similar to those of the artist’s native Crimea. He had often heard the melodious Italian language while still in Feodosia and had remembered the odd words and phrases. This knowledge proved extremely useful in Italy where the young Academy students quickly found a common language with the gondoliers and fishermen. Aivazovsky and his Academy comrade Sternberg sometimes even went out to sea with the fishermen to paint Venice and the nearby islands from the lagoon side.
At that time Aivazovsky’s pictures were regularly shown in Italian exhibitions and brought the young artist extraordinary success. One of his works was acquired by Pope Gregory XVI. His virtuosity at conveying the effects of moonlight playing on the water elicited admiring recognition from the Italian public and won the heart of the renowned Romantic ballerina Maria Taglioni. In a letter to the artist she writes: “My memories of Venice are all the more magical because it is there that I met you.” It comes as no surprise that most of the works he had painted during his study tour remained in Europe.
However, a real furore awaited the artist’s Venetian pictures upon his return to Russia. A whole series was chosen by Emperor Nicholas I to adorn his Cottage Palace in Alexandria Park at Peterhof and the dining room of his Farm Palace. Following the Emperor’s example, the rest were snapped up by the Petersburg elite. And Venice herself (La Serenissima, as the Italians admiringly call the city) became the artist’s regular and invariably romanticised model.
In the present lot, the depiction of the island of San Giorgio just before sunset allowed Aivazovsky to fully demonstrate his gift as a subtle, virtuoso colourist. The dazzling resonance of the colours in this picture hinges on the exploitation of light effects: these produce painterly overtones on the water and clouds and make the sparkling silhouettes of church of San Giorgio Maggiore, the bell-tower and sailing boats moored at the island stand out against a sky still red from the reflections of the setting sun.
Once Aivazovsky had discovered this view of the island of San Giorgio it was to reappear in his work several times. As he revisited it over the decades he would occasionally shift the viewpoint or vary the light effects, sometimes adorning the composition with the rays of the rising sun, at other times the cold light of the moon. He also varied the combinations of genres from year to year, allowing him to change the mood of his quiet, dreamy canvasses to encompass both elegiac motifs and romantic nocturnal trysts.
This large-scale work of 1851 is among the most serene and spiritual works of the cycle. With its effective use of colour, founded upon the delicate gradations of restrained pink and blue tones and its resonant dense, physical paint application, this work is wonderfully typical of the Italian works of this celebrated seascape painter – works which, just as much as the great shipwrecks and storms, made the name of Aivazovsky great.
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.