Monday, January 27, 2020

Two paintings by the artist Ivan Aivazovsky that have been banned in Russia since 1892, are now available for viewing

There were several events in the history of Russia that the government did not want depicted and tried to hide. One of these forbidden pages of history was the famine that swept the southern part of Russia and the Volga region in 1891-92. When news of the famine reached other countries, the American people collected and sent to Russia five steamers with food for the starving population. The main reason for the famine of 1891-92 was the state’s agricultural policy. In order to replenish the treasury with income from agricultural products, Russia exported large quantities of wheat. In 1891, 3.5 million tons of grain were exported from the country, and in the following year (1892), when famine was raging in the Russian Empire, the Russian government and entrepreneurs sold 6.6 million tons of grain to Europe, which was almost twice as much as the previous year.
Emperor Alexander III categorically denied the existence of famine in Russia, declaring: “I do not have hungry people, there are only those affected by crop failure.” The situation in the country was catastrophic, and this terrible news swept Europe and reached America. The American public, led by William Edgar, editor of the North Western Miller weekly, offered humanitarian assistance to Russia. However, the emperor did not grant permission for the aid to enter Russia. Only after repeated requests did he allow the donated food to feed the starving Russian people.

                                      “Aid Ship”, Ivan Aivazovsky, 1892

For several months organizations in the northern U.S. states and the American Red Cross were engaged in the delivery of humanitarian aid to the ports of America, and at the beginning of 1892 the first two ships loaded with flour and grain sailed to distant Russia. From early spring to mid-summer 1892 five steamers with food arrived in Russia with more than 10,000.00 tons of food. The cost of the delivered assistance was estimated at $ 1 million.

“Distribution of Food”, Ivan Aivazovsky, 1892

Ivan Aivazovsky, a Russian Romantic painter who is considered one of the greatest masters of marine art, witnessed the arrival of the ships with the long-awaited cargo, which helped to improve the catastrophic situation in the country. In the Baltic ports of Liepaja and Riga the steamboats were met by welcoming orchestras. Wagons, decorated with American and Russian flags, and loaded with food set off to distribute their cargo to the needy, This event impressed the artist so much, that he produced two paintings: “Aid Ship” and “Distribution of Food”.
The paintings were not allowed to be exhibited in any of Russia’s galleries. Emperor Alexander III was annoyed by the mood of the people shown by the artist in his paintings. Moreover, the paintings demonstrated the emperor’s inability to rule the country and causing the famine in Russia. During a visit to America in 1892-1893, Ivan Aivazovsky donated his canvases to the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington.
In 1962, when the USA and the USSR were on the verge of a nuclear war because of the deployment of Soviet missiles in Cuba, the story about America’s assistance during the 1892-1993 famine resurfaced in American newspapers Trying to find examples of US-Russian cooperation in the past, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy borrowed Ivan Aivazovsky paintings from the Corcoran Gallery of Arts for a conference room in the White House. Against this background, the president and his press secretaries made statements on their progress in sorting out relations with Moscow. The Aivazovsky paintings, the Americans argued, were a reminder of past fraternal feelings between the two peoples.
In 1979, the paintings became part of a private collection in Pennsylvania, and were not accessible to the public for many years. However, at a 2008 Sotheby’s auction, both of Aivazovsky’s historical paintings were sold for $2.4 million to a philanthropist, who immediately transferred them to the Corcoran Gallery of Arts. In conclusion, it should be noted that these paintings by Ivan Aivazovsky, painted in 1892, have never been allowed to be shown in modern Russia.