AIVAZOVSKY’S HOUSE AND GUESTS
“My address - Feodosia, always.” That was how Ivan Aivazovsky would refer to his permanent home, the centre of both his life and work. Wherever the artist travelled, to St. Petersburg, Moscow, Paris, Venice, Constantinople or New York, he always returned to his native town. To this day the artist’s house attracts guests - art-lovers, specialists, connoisseurs and those are simply drawn to Aivazovsky’s work. Within its walls, music is still played and artists still work, and the house continues to capture the hearts and souls of new admirers of the talents of its famous resident.
In June 1844, Aivazovsky, aged 27 returned to St. Petersburg from his study trip around Europe, which had lasted four years and during which the artist had been feted with much attention not only by the public at large, but also by the royal courts of Italy, France and Bavaria. In the first months after his return to Russia, Aivazovsky received the Order of Saint Anna of the 3rd class, was made a professor and academician of the Imperial Academy of Arts, and appointed painter of the Naval Staff. In 1845, the artist sailed with Fyodor Litke's expedition to the coasts of the Ottoman Empire, Asia Minor and to the Aegean Islands. The artist worked hard: already in 1846 he arranged his first personal exhibitions in Feodosia and Odessa, and displayed his paintings in St. Petersburg, Berlin and Paris. Each of these exhibitions received favourable reviews in the press and delighted visitors. Such rapid, even resounding success and the acknowledgement of the artist's exceptional talent aroused curiosity and drew the attention of the St. Petersburg newspapers and periodicals. However, the young and fashionable artist unexpectedly decided to leave the Russian capital behind him and settle more than a thousand miles away, in the small town of Feodosia; it was a decision that gave rise to various rumours and misunderstandings, and much gossip.
In 1845, the artist acquired a plot of land by the sea, on the outskirts of Feodosia, and in the first half of 1846 construction of a house began there, built to the artist's own design. “We hardly believe in the artist's intentions but, however it may be, his house in Feodosia is under construction,” one journalist wrote at the time. “A very nice villa designed by the artist himself is appearing in the perfectly located town. Aivazovsky intends to settle there permanently and to set up an extensive studio, which could also host a school of painting for the district.”
A little later, in autumn 1846, the artist bought another small plot of land on the southern coast of Crimea - a fruit orchard, of which the artist wrote: “It is a remarkable place, in winter it is almost completely green, due to the cypresses and bay trees, and the roses bloom all winter. I am delighted by this purchase, and although it brings not a kopeck in income, it means I have no reason to envy those villas of Italy.”
It is mentioned in the “Employment Record of Ivan Aivazovsky, Professor of Painting and Seascapes Third Grade of the Imperial Academy of Arts, 8th Grade Civil Servant”, which is held at the Aivazovsky Picture Gallery, that the construction of the house was finished in 1847 At that time, the Feodosia town architect was an Italian, Santino Becario, and Aivazovsky may well have consulted with him on the design and construction of the building.
The house was impressive both for its size and its functional architectural forms, the impressive interiors of its formal drawing-rooms, intended for receptions, and its magnificent southern Neo-Renaissance facade. Its porches were decorated with marble and ceramic sculptures, brought from Italy. In piers between the windows, ceramic sculptures, symbolizing the Four Arts, were placed on brackets, and marble statues of Venus and Apollo were set out in niches. Copies of ancient statues (Aphrodite of Milos, Hera and Hercules) decorated the building's top storey, and in front of the grand entrance there were two ceramic griffins on the balustrade. On one of the terraces, a fountain resembling the “Fountain of Tears” in Bakhchysarai was erected.
The “Employment Record” points out that Aivazovsky owned not only this house in Feodosia, but also a plot of land in the village of Shakh-Mamai in the Feodosia district. In that location, steeped in legends about the Tatar military commander Mamai, the artist built his country house - not as grand as his mansion in the town, but nevertheless impressive to guests.
One of the artist's grandsons, Alexander Latri, who took the painter's surname in 1899, described this building in his memoirs “From the Distant Past”: “He builds a house on his country estate, not large, in Tatar style, with just eight to 10 rooms, but with a very large, high-ceilinged studio. And there was a guest wing with 22 rooms not far from the studio.” According to Nikolai Kuzmin, the artist's biographer, Aivazovsky's country estate was full of flowers and trees, and a long avenue of Bolle's poplars and cypresses led to the house. “There was a large pool in the flower garden in front of the house, comprising three circles joined by one channel, with a two-arshin-high [one arshin is equal to 71 cm] model ship anchored in each corner. These were exact copies of the sailing fleet - complete with sails, cannons, etc, and were painted in black and white, as such vessels were in our day...”
The time that Aivazovsky spent in Shakh-Mamai, usually in summer and early autumn, was mainly dedicated to work, and according to Kuzmin, the artist “would return to Feodosia with a vast number of new canvases and filled with new energy.” Kuzmin visited the painter in his town house many times, and in his “Memories of Aivazovsky” he described life there: ‘At least 15 persons sat at the dining-table in a vast ground-floor dining-room, since besides the artist's large family, there were usually invited visitors, and sometimes distinguished guests from St. Petersburg or Simferopol, the principal town of the province. Many of those who visited were delighted by the charming family setting, warmed by Ivan Konstantinovich's kind looks and attention, and the babble of his little grandchildren, the witty remarks of Ivan Konstantinovich, and the excited conversations and chatter of ladies and other guests... The atmosphere of the artist's home was always hospitable , and he himself a lively, cheerful and sociable host. Regardless of visitors, he worked quickly and firmly in his wide artist's coat, a palette and brush in his hands, and at the same time he was joking, singing songs and talking to his guests - and working untiringly.”
According to the artist's contemporaries, the receptions and balls held in Aivazovsky's house were most unusual and impressive. His grandson Alexander Latri described one of the balls, given by the artist on July 22 1890, to mark the name day of Empress Maria Fyodorovna. At that time, the Black Sea Squadron, which had completed torpedo training, was anchored in the Gulf of Feodosia, and the command of the ships was invited to the ball. After the gun salute in celebration of the name day of the Empress, an orchestra arrived from the ships of the squadron and was positioned on the terrace of the drawing-room. The guests soon began to arrive, among them the squadron commander and two admirals, ships' officers, officers of the local guards, and invited citizens of Feodosia (the ladies in ball dresses, the gentlemen in tail-coats). The ball was opened by Aivazovsky dancing a waltz with his granddaughter Sofia, who had just reached the age of 16 and was now considered marriageable. The guests danced on the first floor, with tables laid in the ground-floor gallery. At the height of the ball one of the sailors told Aivazovsky that a young midshipman, Prince Khilkov, knew Russian folk dance very well. The host asked him to dance, but the guest was embarrassed by such a request and refused, until Aivazovsky grabbed him by his arm and pulled him to the centre of the room. “The guests immediately made a large circle in the middle, and Khilkov, seeing that there was no retreat, gestured to the orchestra and proceeded with the Russian folk dances, precisely and dashingly. Everybody was delighted, and Khilkov was applauded vigorously.”
But the most impressive such occasion was the visit of the Imperial family and the reception Aivazovsky held for his honoured guests. In summer 1867, on their return from a trip to Constantinople, Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna and Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich expressed a wish to visit Feodosia and the house of Aivazovsky, who had accompanied them on their journey at the request of Empress Maria Alexandrovna. The visit was a grand event for the whole town, and the honoured guests were welcomed with all the splendour the host could offer. Pyotr Karatygin, the artist's biographer, described the visit in “Russkaya Starina” (Old Times in Russia) magazine: “On the day of Their Highnesses' arrival the whole town was decorated with flags, and in front of Aivazovsky's house a triumphal arch was made from greenery. The steamship, on board of which Their Majesties travelled, was welcomed just over a mile off the coast by Aivazovsky, who went out on a launch, followed by four beautiful gondolas, filled with flowers, which were used to carpet the waves of the sea in front of the steamship.” The whole town centre was richly decorated: “opposite the house, in the garden, three pavilions with fountains and a stone rotunda were erected; there was a theatre on the sea front and a decorative palazzo in Venetian style on the shore.”
The guests made their way to the house of the artist, who gave a luxurious dinner in their honour. Afterwards, on the theatre stage, scenes from Constantinople life were presented, and a ballet performed by the children of Feodosia's notables. Meanwhile, night approached, darkness fell, and “the garden, the surroundings, the seaside and the breakwater nearby were illuminated, with a firework display. At the end of the breakwater, the monogram of His Majesty the Emperor was created out of boughs of trees, while a group of young ladies, dressed in white, stood on high platforms, repeating the outlines of the monogram on a fabulous scale.” The celebrations lasted until one in the morning. The guests spent part of the following day near Sudak, at a small estate belonging to Aivazovsky, where an Oriental-style picnic was held. In memory of their visit the artist presented the guests with two paintings, depicting Feodosia and the Sudak Valley during the celebrations. To mark this visit, Empress Maria Alexandrovna sent a telegram to Aivazovsky, expressing “the gratitude of Her Majesty for the pleasure afforded to Their Highnesses”.
Many notable figures of the era came to visit Aivazovsky at his home in Feodosia. In 1866, Grand Duke Konstantin Nikolayevich came with his retinue. In 1895, the Catholicos of All Armenians, Mkrtich Khrimian Hayrik (1822-1907), spent a week at Aivazovsky's town house and at his estate in Shakh-Mamai. Mikhail Vorontsov (1782-1856), governor-general of New Russia and Bessarabia, and the senators and governors of Tavrida Province Alexander Kaznacheyev (1788-1880) and Pyotr Lazarev (1850-1919), were among other honoured guests at the artist's house in Feodosia at different times.
Perhaps the most unexpected and romantic visit was that paid by the Crimean Tatar outlaw Alim, around whose personality numerous folk legends have grown up. He appeared suddenly in Aivazovsky's studio in Shakh-Mamai, attracted by talk of the painter's works. Aivazovsky was gracious to his guest; he showed him his paintings and, in Oriental style, offered him a cup of coffee. However, the story developed in an even more unexpected and romantic way, in an episode connected to the artist's marriage. On August 15 1848, the wedding procession was travelling to a festive banquet at Shakh-Mamai, when a band of armed horsemen barred its way, scaring those in the cortege. The band's leader was Alim; he congratulated the newly married couple and gave the bride a beautiful oriental shawl, following Tatar custom.
Aivazovsky strived to develop culture and the arts in Crimea, but received no financial support from the state; in 1865 he held a personal exhibition in St. Petersburg and announced that all proceeds from it were intended “to fund a studio in the painter's home town for travelling artists, as well as for enthusiasts of art, who would like to take the professor's advice and make copies of his paintings.” Thus he came to open an art studio at his house in Feodosia, where anyone interested could come to consult with him; the artist was employed by the Imperial Academy of Arts and “given all the rights its professors were granted, except salary”. Among Aivazovsky's plans was to provide help and support to young people, who “could neither afford a long journey, nor had a chance to study art at home, and were sometimes forced to relinquish their vocation.”
As early as the following year, Aivazovsky sent a series of works by his most talented students to the Senate of the Academy of Arts: among them were paintings by Fyodor Kondopulo (1846-1919), later a graduate of the Academy of Arts, and Adolf Fassler (1826-1885), who would continue his studies at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture. The famous marine painter, himself a native of Feodosia, Lev Lagorio (1826-1905) also took his first painting lessons at Aivazovsky's studio. Various sources, albeit sometimes contradictory, suggest that Arkhip Kuindzhi (1842-1910), the future professor of the Imperial Academy of Arts, who was influenced by Aivazovsky's work, attended the painter's studio, too. Konstantin Bogaevsky (1872-1943), who was born and lived in Feodosia, also visited Aivazovsky's studio; he made pencil drawings of the artist's paintings and later studied at the Imperial Academy of Arts. Emmanuil Magdesian (1857-1908), the future famous Armenian painter, who also went on to complete his education at the Academy of Arts, spent much time at Aivazovsky's house making copies of his paintings. Many other Armenian painters - including Vardges Sureniants (1860-1921), Arsene Chabanian (1864-1949), Vartan Makhokhian (1869-1937) and Yeghishe Tadevosyan (1870-1936) - visited Aivazovsky's house, studio and gallery at different periods; they spent time in his company, admired his works, and, according to many of them, were encouraged by the master at the very beginning of their creative careers.
Three of Aivazovsky's grandsons - Mikhail Latri (1875-1942), Alexei Hanzen (1876-1937) and Konstantin Artseulov (1891-1980) - would become artists. They lived in their grandfather's house at different times and were undoubtedly influenced by his work. The prominent Russian artists Ivan Shishkin and Henryk Siemiradzki visited Aivazovsky's house and gallery, as did Pavel Tretyakov, in 1875. The artist developed a positive and respectful relationship with the great collector, which is evident from their correspondence - although not intensive or frequent, it nevertheless continued over four decades. Tretyakov carefully chose the best works of the great marine painter for his gallery.
There is no doubt that Aivazovsky aroused great interest among many outstanding Russian cultural figures, who were in turn hosted by the artist at his home. One such was Alexei Suvorin (1834-1912), a journalist and publisher, and the owner of one of Russia's largest publishing houses: he had a summer house in Feodosia, and was a friend and frequent guest of Aivazovsky. The artist in turn approached Suvorin for support in his campaign to ensure that the railway be extended to Feodosia.
In 1888, Suvorin hosted Anton Chekhov in his dacha in Feodosia, and both of them visited Aivazovsky at his town house as well as on his Shakh-Mamai estate. On May 22 1888, Chekhov wrote to his sister Maria Chekhova about his visits to the artist: “It is an extravagant, fairy-tale estate of the kind you must probably find in Persia.” He went on to describe his host with a typical touch of irony: “In him alone are combined a general, a bishop, an artist, an Armenian, a naive old granddad, and Othello.” Vasily Krivenko, the writer and public figure who was a contributor to the newspaper “Novoe Vremya” (New Time), was also a frequent guest of Aivazovsky and wrote a book of memoirs about him.
An art gallery, adjacent to the artist's house, was opened for visitors in 1880, intended not only for the display of paintings. The hall had excellent acoustics, and a stage too, and so became the first public theatre in Feodosia. That brought not only artists but also prominent actors and musicians to visit Aivazovsky: among them were the actors of the Alexandrinsky Theatre Konstantin Varlamov (1848-1915) and Nikolai Sazonov (1843-1902), the playwright and popular comic actor Mark Kropyvnytsky (1840-1910), and the Armenian actors Petros Adamyan (1849-1891) and Armen Armenyan (1871-1965).
In the art gallery and formal drawing-rooms of Aivazovsky's house, music was performed by such prominent musicians as Anton Rubinstein (1829-1894) and Henryk Wieniawsky (1835-1880). The artist also arranged concerts there together with his neighbour, Alexander Spendiarov (1871-1928), the Armenian composer and conductor: Spendiarov played the piano, Aivazovsky the violin. The Mariinsky Theatre soloists Nikolai Figner and Medea Figner also sang at the artist's house.
As a painter of the Naval Staff, Aivazovsky became a chronicler of the Russian Navy. His patriotic feelings ran so high that he took part not only in exercises of the Russian Navy, but also in conflict: he visited Sevastopol several times while it was under siege, and even opened a personal exhibition there to boost the morale of the city's defenders. “Each and every victory of our forces, on land and sea alike, delights me as a Russian and inspires me as an artist to depict it on a canvas,” Aivazovsky wrote. The Navy appreciated its painter, and in 1887, during the celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of the artist's creative career, the formal address of the Admiralty noted that it was proud that the artist was on its rolls.
Thus, it was no coincidence that Pyotr Kotlyarevsky (1782-1852), the Infantry General and military hero of the Russo-Persian War who lived in Feodosia, was among Aivazovsky's guests, as were General Nikolai Raevsky (1801-1843), the son of a military hero of the Patriotic War of 1812; Mikhail Lazarev (1788-1851), the explorer and Commander of the Black Sea Fleet; Vladimir Kornilov (1806-1854), Vice Admiral and chief of staff of the Black Sea Fleet, who led the defence of Sevastopol; Vladimir Pestel (1795-1865), Major General and senator, and governor of Tavrida Province; and Mikhail Loris-Melikov (1825-1888), Lieutenant General, military leader and statesman.
Even so bare a list of those who visited Aivazovsky at his home in Feodosia, who talked with him there - about matters of everyday life or the higher subject of art - and joined him in celebrations - both within the artist's family and connected to the life of his native town - reveals many aspects, both familiar and little known, of the painter's life, the richness of which still sparkles even after the passing of so many years.
- “Illustratsija”. 1846. Vol. 24. Quoted from: Barsamov, Nikolai. “Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky”. Simferopol, 1953. P. 57. Hereinafter - Barsamov.
- “Aivazovsky. Documents and Materials”. Yerevan, 1967. P. 90. Hereinafter - Documents.
- Archive of the Aivazovsky Picture Gallery. D-3.
- In 1899, Aivazovsky addressed Emperor Nicholas II: “I do not have sons, but God gave me daughters and grandsons. Wishing to preserve my family name, I adopted my grandson Alexander Latri, the son of my elder daughter. I dare to ask you to give my adopted son Alexander my last name, my arms and the title of nobility.” Quoted from: Sargsian, Minas. “Life of the Great Marine Painter”. Feodosia-Moscow, 2010. Hereinafter - Sargsian.
- Aivazovsky, Alexander. “From the Distant Past”. New York, 1948. P. 25. Hereinafter - Latri.
- Kuzmin, Nikolai. “Memories of Aivazovsky”. Simferopol, 2005. P. 65. Hereinafter - Kuzmin.
- Latri. P. 25.
- Kuzmin. P. 67.
- Ibid., p. 66.
- Latri. P. 23.
- “Russkaya Starina” (Old Times in Russia). 1978. Vol. 23, p. 283-284. Quoted from: Sargsian. P. 130.
- Ibid., p. 284.
- Ibid., p. 285.
- Sargsian. P. 183.
- Documents. P. 271.
- Sargsian. P. 35.
- Ibid., p. 41.
- Latri. P. 23.
- Sargsian. P. 89-90.
- Quoted from: Barsamov. P. 95.
- Documents. P. 145.
- Ibid., p. 142.
- Ibid., p. 148-149.
- Sargsian. P. 207.
- Ibid., p. 179.
- Ibid., p. 248.
- Barsamov. P. 62.
- Ibid., p. 119.
- Sargsian. P. 202.
- Chekhov, Anton. “Collected Works”. Vol. 2. Moscow, 1963. P. 233-234.
- Sargsian. P. 166.
- Barsamov. P. 67
- Documents. P. 225.
- Sargsian. P. 79.
- Ibid., p. 195.
Photograph. Archive of Aivazovsky Picture Gallery, Feodosia