This is one of my favorite paintings - my mom has a thing for nautical/ocean scenes. The painter happens to be Russian too!
It was drawing, however, which most seized the young boy's imagination: lacking other materials he drew in charcoal on the whitewashed walls of Theodosia. These drawings attracted the attention of A. Kaznacheyev, the town-governor, who helped Aivazovsky to enter the high school at Simpheropol and in 1833, the St. Petersburg Academy of Fine Arts, where he took the landscape painting course and was especially interested in marine landscapes. In the autumn of 1836 Aivazovsky presented 5 marine pictures to the Academic exhibition, and they were highly appreciated. In 1837, Aivazovsky received the Major Gold Medal for Calm in the Gulf of Finland (1836) and The Great Road at Kronstadt (1836), which allowed him to go on a long study trip abroad. However the artist first went to the Crimea to perfect himself in his chosen genre by painting the sea and views of the Crimean coastal towns.
When Aivazovsky began his career, Russian art was still dominated by Romanticism and it was the romantic mood which set the terms for Russian landscape painting in the second half of the nineteenth century. It is scarcely surprising then to discover romantic elements both in Aivazovsky's early works, and in the majority of his later ones. One reflection of this is his choice of subjects - again and again we find him depicting shipwrecks, raging sea battles and storms.
Aivazovsky's student days in St. Petersburg coincided with a confused and in many ways contradictory phase in the Russian history. On the one hand it was a period of harsh tyrannical rule and political stagnation under tsar Nicholas I, on the other it witnessed a great flowering of Russian culture, beginning after the Napoleonic War of 1812. This was the age of Pushkin, Gogol, Lermontov, Belinsky, Glinka and Briullov. Within the Academy the canons of Classicism, closely linked to ideas of civic duty and patriotism, still held sway, but the new stirrings of Romanticism were also discernible.
The great success of Karl Briullov's picture The Last Day of Pompeii made a lasting impression on Aivazovsky, summing up as it did the victory of the Romantic school in the Russian painting. Both the picture and Briullov himself played an important part in stimulating Aivazovsky's own creative development. In general Russian art of the first half of the nineteenth century combined Romanticism with Realism and very often both principles found expression in an artist's works. This was especially evident in landscape painting, an essentially realistic art form which continued romantic features for a long time. Aivazovsky acquired a romantic outlook in his student years and maintained it in maturity. He remained to the end one of the most faithful disciples of Romanticism, although this did not prevent him from evolving his own form of realism.