This Week in Armenian History

Birth of Vartan Mahokian (May 31, 1869)

Fortress at the Black Sea

Painter Vartan Mahokian (also Makhokhian) excelled in marine paintings and became the best in the field among Armenian artists after the famous Russian Armenian painter Ivan (Hovhannes) Aivazovsky.

Mahokian was born on May 31, 1869, in Trebizonda, on the Turkish Black Sea coast. His father was a trader invested in giving his two daughters and four sons a good education. After receiving his elementary education at a local Armenian school, where he took an interest in drawing, he attended the prestigious Sanasarian College in Erzerum between 1882 and 1887. He engaged seriously in painting in those years, during which he also became an accomplished violinist and studied musical theory.

Upon graduation, Mahokian returned to his hometown and announced to his parents that he would become a painter. Four years later, he began studies at the Berlin Academy of Arts. He graduated in 1894 and traveled to Crimea, where he met and studied with Ivan Aivazovsky. He returned to Trebizonda in 1895 and witnessed the Hamidian massacres. He escaped first to Batum and then to Europe, where he began showing his art. One of his first exhibitions was in Berlin (1900). He was admitted into the Berlin Artists Association in 1904. That year he also traveled to Egypt and held exhibitions in Alexandria and Cairo. He then settled in the island of Capri, Italy. He returned to Germany in 1907 and participated in various exhibitions held in Berlin, Düsseldorf, and Munich.

After the Ottoman Revolution, Mahokian returned to Trebizonda in 1908. He continued painting there, but in 1914, with the start of World War I, he moved to London, where he had an exhibition, and then to France. After the end of the war, he settled in Nice until the end of his life. He was awarded the French Legion of Honor in 1925 and received French citizenship two years later. He participated in the Paris Salon in 1921, 1922, and 1927. He had exhibitions in Marseilles (1923), Nice (1918, 1932, 1936), and Monte Carlo (1932). In a book on Makhokhian published in 1918, French art critic Camille Mauclair wrote: “He has succeeded in expressing Nature and his emotion with knowledge and power, because he has always been animated with increasing sincerity, worked with methodical perseverance, observed with passionate care.”

In 1915 he composed a symphony entitled The Cry of Armenia in memory of the victims of the Armenian Genocide. It was first performed in Monte Carlo (1918) and then throughout Europe.

Mahokian passed away on February 10, 1937, in Nice, at the age of 67, after a long illness. His art is displayed in various museums, including the Museum of Fine Arts of Nice, the National Gallery of Armenia, the Mekhitarist Congregation in Venice, the Cilicia Museum of the Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia (Antelias), the pontifical residence of Holy Echmiadzin, and others.