Thursday, November 27, 2014

Karl Briullov

Last Days of Pompeii
oil on canvas
456.5 x 651 cm
The State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

Sir Walter Scott is reported to have looked at the painting for an hour and declared afterwards that it "wasn't a painting, but an epic".

Karl Pavlovich Brulloff (1799-1852) was a Russian painter of the first half of the 19th Century, one of the transitional artists between the schools of neoclassicism and romanticism and the first Russian painter to gain widespread recognition in the West. His contemporaries called him The Great Karl. His most famous work, The Last Day of Pompeii (1833), created a sensation in Italy and established Bryullov as one of the finest painters of his day. Italian critics compared Brulloff to the greatest artists of the past, such as Rubens, Rembrandt, and Van Dyke.

He was born in St. Petersburg into a family of Italian extraction. He entered the Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg in 1809. He never fully embraced the style taught by the Academy. After distinguishing himself as a promising and imaginative student and finishing his education, he left Russia for Rome. Here he worked until 1835 as a portraitist and genre painter, though his fame as an artist came when he got involved in historical painting. While teaching at the Academy (1836-1848) he continued his own artistic efforts, but was unable to produce a work comparable to his The Last Day of Pompeii.

By the late 1840s, his health was deteriorating due to his unrestrained lifestyle, unhappy marriage and his hard work on frescoes in St. Isaac's Cathedral in St. Petersburg, which he was unable to finish. In 1849, he went abroad, in the hopes that warmer climates would help his recovery. He died of a stroke in Rome.