I am endlessly fascinated by art, paintings, and the stories that make these works come alive. As I was learning about Russian realist artist Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky (1817 – 1900) and his paintings for my previous blog, I was reminded of British artist Joseph Mallard William Turner (1775 – 1851). Both artists captured the power of nature – particularly the sea – with the same passion. Interestingly, the two met in Rome, and Turner, the senior of the two was so impressed with Aivazovsky that he wrote a poem for one of his paintings.
One of Aivazovsky’s most famous works is The Ninth Wave (1850), which captured the majesty and power of nature and the helplessness of man in the face of this power. The ninth wave, according to legend, is the most powerful wave – and that’s what Aivazovsky has captured in this painting. The group of people have survived the ninth wave and the fiery sunrise in the background brings hope for a new day.
Turner’s The Slave Ship (1840) too shows the power of the sea and the helplessness of the ship in the face of this power. The sunrise in the back offers hope to the ship, but the tragedy here lies in the fact that the slaves being transported in the ship have been thrown overboard so the Captain can collect insurance for them. The similarities in the two pictures is striking – both capture the wrath of nature and the offer of hope for the survivors as a fiery new day dawns.
Both artists have also captured the beauty of a moonlit night. Turner’s A Study at Millbank (1797) captures the glory of the river Thames as a full moon lights up the night.
Aivazovsky’s stunning The Bay of Naples at Moonlight Night (1842) captures the glory of a moonlit night. Among others who were in awe of Aivazovsky’s talent was Turner himself. Turner was so impressed with the young artist’s talents that he wrote a poem after seeing the Bay of Naples at Moonlight Night.
Like a curtain slowly drawn
It stops suddenly half open,
Or, like grief itself, filled with gentle hope,
It becomes lighter in the shore-less dark,
Thus the moon barely wanes
Winding her way above the storm-tossed sea.
Stand upon this hill and behold endlessly
This scene of a formidable sea,
And it will seem to thee a waking dream.
That secret mind flowing in thee
Which even the day cannot scatter,
The serenity of thinking and the beating of the heart
Will enchain thee in this vision;
This golden-silver moon
Standing lonely over the sea,
All curtain the grief of even the hopeless.
And it appears that through the tempest
Moves a light caressing wind,
While the sea swells up with a roar,
Sometimes, like a battlefield it looks to me
The tempestuous sea,
Where the moon itself is a brilliant golden crown
Of a great king.
But even that moon is always beneath thee
Oh Master most high,
Oh forgive thou me
If even this master was frightened for a moment
Oh, noble moment, by art betrayed…
And how may one not delight in thee,
Oh thou young boy, but forgive thou me,
If I shall bend my white head
Before thy art divine
Thy bliss-wrought genius...