Masterpiece by Ivan Aivazovsky

On December 7 Stockholms Auktionsverk will sell a rediscovered masterpiece by history’s greatest marine painter, Ivan Aivazovsky.

I.K. Aivazovsky, Sunset over the Great Lavra, Mount Athos


The painting was hidden in private hands in a very small Norwegian village for over a half century.

The oil on canvas, "Sunset over the Great lava, Mount Athos,’’ is signed and dated 1846. It has Aivazovsky’s telltale dazzling colors and shows his incredible ability to depict the majestic force of the sea. The size is 83cm by 117cm, and the pre-sale estimate is 440,000 to 660,000 euros.

Ivan Samarine, the prominent London-based Aivazovsky expert, describes the painting as ``one of the most beautiful, early and important Aivazovsky paintings to appear on the auction market for some years.’’

Samarine believes the painting is probably the one listed by Aivazovsky’s biographer N. P. Sobko as “View of Athos and the islands” in his inventory compiled in Aivazovsky's lifetime, and that it was exhibited in his home town, the Russian Black Sea port of Theodosia in 1846.

The panting then reappeared in the early 1950's when a dentist living in a small village in Norway received the painting as payment for some teeth work he did. The painting stayed in the dentist's home until she passed away about 1990. During a small local auction the painting was acquired by the current owner, a native of the same village, and it remains there since.

The offered painting depicts Athos’ monastery with its fortified landing tower in the foreground. Greek rowers bring a lady either to or from the tower. This is a mystery because women are not allowed on the territory of Athos at all. Is she an intrepid, surely British, traveler of the period?

Three years after this picture was made, Aivazovsky painted a large moonlit view of Mt Athos, but from a slightly different angle. It now hangs in the State Russian Museum in St. Petersburg.


Stockholms Auktionsverk was founded in 1674, making it the oldest existing auction house in the world. During the Great Northern War (1700-1721) between Sweden and Russia, SA auctioned off items taken back to Sweden as war booty. In the 21st century, from 2004 to 2009, SA had separate Russian art auctions. The current Aivazovsky painting, however, will be included in the Fine Arts and Antiques auction on Dec 7, where there is a section for Russian art and works of art.

Ivan Aivazovsky (1817-1900) is one of Russia’s and Europe’s leading 19th century painters. He established himself as a master already as a young man in the 1840s when he travelled to Europe for the first time, on the scholarship from the Imperial Academy of Arts. During that study tour, he became the second Russian painter ever to achieve international fame, resulting in the purchase of his painting by Pope Gregory XIV, and becoming a member of the Dutch Academy of Arts.

Upon return to Russia, he was appointed official painter to the Imperial Navy (a post specifically created for him). He was not even 30 years old. In 1845 he embarked on a journey to Asia Minor and the Aegean Islands that culminated in Istanbul. On this trip that he first saw Mt. Athos from the sea.

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