Andreas Roubian’s Lecture on Aivazovsky at Sotheby’s in New York Concluded Exhibition of the Artist’s Masterworks


Aivazovsky’s “Caravan before the Pyramids,” 1871

By Aram Arkun|
Mirror-Spectator Staff

NEW YORK — The New York headquarters of the international art auction firm Sotheby’s hosted a talk by art collector Andreas Roubian on the 19th-century painter Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky, famous for his seascapes, on April 11. Roubian, one of the world’s leading Aivazovsky experts, displayed 10 masterworks of the artist from his own collection during the exhibition for Sotheby’s Russian art auction, April 7 to 11.Roubian, an entrepreneur in the field of international trade and logistics, received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from New York University’s Stern School of business and worked in several financial institutions. He became the chief financial officer of Danzas, an international logistics provider, in the 1980s, and then founded his own firm called FDS International. When Roubian was in his late twenties, FDS became one of the first software firms to implement paperless processes for the US Customs and related government agencies. After the first Gulf War, FDS provided the international logistics software for Kuwaiti reconstruction in the early 1990s.

Roubian taught finance and management sciences as a visiting lecturer and an adjunct professor at Pace University and the City University of New York for approximately 10 years in the 1980s. He has a large art collection including the works of many other Armenian artists like Hovsep Pushman and Mardiros Sarian.

Sonya Bekkerman, head of Sotheby’s Russian Paintings department in New York, hosted Roubian’s talk. In her introduction, Bekkerman said, “I met Andreas over 10 years ago. He invited me to his home to see his collection. Andreas played a critical role in my first sale of Russian paintings in 2004 and I’m very grateful to him for that. Since that time, I’ve been in many homes in many continents but have yet to see a collection of Aivazovsky of this magnitude, this quality and breadth and I am sure that I will not come across such a collection again.”

Bekkerman said that Roubian’s passion for art and collecting began when he was a teenager, instilled by his mother. Roubian is a leading authority on Aivazovsky who is writing a book focusing on the latter’s artwork. He often loans works from his private collection to museums, but this was the first time a small part of his holdings were displayed at Sotheby’s. Roubian is also an activist on behalf of his fellow Armenians. He served as the chairman of the Karabagh Committee in the late 1980s and early 1990s, helping both the soldiers of Karabagh and providing humanitarian aid to the rest of the population of the region. Roubian was the benefactor for the large cathedral of Shushi in Karabagh, the reconstruction of which he funded in the memory of his parents. Today he continues to be active in Armenian affairs, and supportive of the Republic of Armenia and the Republic of Mountainous Karabagh. He frequently hosts benefits in his home.

From left, Ambassador Garen Nazarian, Honduras Ambassador to the UN Mary Elizabeth Flores Flake and Andreas Roubian

Roubian presented a brief biography of Aivazovsky (1817-1900). He was born to a poor Armenian family in Theodosia in the Crimea (today Ukraine, but then, in the Russian Empire). His early drawings on walls with charcoal caught the attention of the chief architect of Theodosia, who was Aivazovsky’s father’s friend. Many local dignitaries also noticed him. This attention led to a full, six-year scholarship to the St. Petersburg Academy of Fine Arts. Tsar Nicolas I came to love his work and asked him to accompany the Russian navy together with his son. Roubian declared, “This was a match made in heaven and Nicolas I became Aivazovsky’s best patron, buying all of his art.”

Bekkerman interjected that Aivazovsky painted more than 6,000 canvases. Roubian clarified that by 1962 or 1963, there were only around 620 or 650 of his paintings extant in Soviet museums, so that many did not survive. Some of his paintings were cut, painted over (e.g., over 80 percent of those in Dolmabahçe Palace in Istanbul), or only were fragments. Exposure to sea water also damaged many of his works.

Aivazovsky, like many other artists, has different periods characterized by different styles in his work. In the 1830s, he was a pupil of Romantic landscape painter Maxim Vorobyov and painted directly from nature, as an academician. In the 1840s, he strove to find his inner strength and moved away from painting directly from nature towards a free hand, painting from imagination. His brush stroke gradually evolved. He also moved away from Romanticism towards Realism. In the 1890s he began to deviate from the latter and flirt with Impressionism, but ultimately he remained true to Realism.

In the late 1870s or 1880s Aivazovsky became more of a Russian nationalist, as evidenced by paintings of the tsar or other Russian themes. He was always also loyal to his Armenian roots. When the Russians conquered Kars from the Ottomans, Roubian illustrated, Aivazovsky was overwhelmed as a Russian and as an Armenian, and went to meet Lt. Gen. Arshak Ter-Ghukasov, one of the Russian commanders who was of Armenian origin. He immediately began work on his painting of the victory.

In the 1890s, interestingly for Americans, Aivazovsky became mesmerized with Columbus and the discovery of America. He painted many paintings on this theme, and visited the United States. He actively exhibited in his last decade of life all over the world.

Andreas Roubian and Sonya Bekkerman facing, in the first row, Aksotan Atayeva, UN ambassador of Turkmenistan; second row from left to right, Nana Nazarian, Byrganym Aitimova, UN ambassador of Kazakhstan, UN Director-General at Geneva Kasym-Zhomart Tokayev, UN ambassador of Ukraine Yuriy Sergeyev with his wife Nataliya Sergeyeva and Garen Nazarian, UN ambassador of Armenia

Aivazovsky was a very successful entrepreneur in his own way and did not participate much in group exhibitions. This led many other artists to become envious of him. He did not have a studio with people working for him, but he did encourage amateurs to copy his paintings. Furthermore, many Armenian artists were influenced by him and visited him in the Crimea. At the same time, not all of his works were masterpieces, and so there are many Aivazovsky’s of inferior quality. Nonetheless, Roubian said, “If you understand his brushstroke like Sonya or I does, you can tell in a heartbeat what came from his hand.”

The select group of Aivazovsky paintings on display included “Stampede of Sheep during the Storm,” which was painted in 1861. Aivazovsky considered this to be one of his important works, and displayed it in a London exhibition. He loved sheep and owned many. In the painting, the sheep exhibit individual expressions of fear.

In the 1860s, Aivazovsky went to the Caucasus, intending to visit Armenia and the Catholicos in Echmiadzin. He never made it there because of terrible weather, but he painted his first “Mount Ararat” in 1869 in Tbilisi, which Roubian was exhibiting. Aivazovsky had never seen the mountain, but the details are excellent. There is even a monkey on a camel in the foreground. This was one of Aivazovsky’s favorite paintings.

Among the other masterpieces exhibited, “Alexander II Crossing the Danube” (1878) is one of the rare surviving paintings depicting this tsar, which was painted for Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich to commemorate the Russian victory in the recent war against the Ottoman Empire. Nearby, “Caravan before the Pyramids” was displayed in the same room. Painted in 1871, it is considered by some critics to be one of the best Aivazovsky paintings in the world.

Bekkerman asked what it meant to Roubian to be a collector, and why in particular he chose Aivazovsky’s works. The answer was that, “Collecting of art for an intellectual or somebody who is exposed to the finer elements of life, is inspiration. You can just look at art, and see something new each time….I never bought a single painting for money. I bought for my own satisfaction. I am an Armenian activist. I’m very American too. Similarly, Aivazovsky being Armenian, as well as Ukrainian and Russian, showed that one can be a great Russian, Ukrainian and Armenian, all at the same time.”

Roubian emphatically concluded, “Aivazovsky is one of the best painters of mankind, unequivocally.”

The large and distinguished audience at Sotheby’s included many diplomats such as Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, Director-General of the United Nations (UN) Office at Geneva; and the permanent representatives to the UN of Armenia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Honduras and Russia, respectively Ambassadors Karen Nazarian, Byrganym Aitimova, Yuriy Sergeyev, Aksoltan Atayeva, Mary Elizabeth Flores Flake and Vitaly Churkin.