Karl Briullov

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Briullov, Karl Pavlovich


Born Dec. 12 (23), 1799, in St. Petersburg; died June 11 (23), 1852, in Marsciano, near Rome. Russian painter.

Briullov was the son of a woodcarver. He studied at the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts (1809-21) with A. I. Ivanov and A. E. Egorov and worked in Italy from 1823 until 1835, when he returned to St. Petersburg. In 1836 he became a professor at the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts. He lived on the island of Madeira in 1849, and from 1850 he again lived in Italy.

Dissatisfied with his academic education in the aesthetic principles of classicism, Briullov strove for a realistic renewal of Russian painting, but his endeavors were imbued with a romantic world view that was characteristic of his time. Briullov’s work is distinguished by an affirmation of vivid strong emotions, sensuous, plastic beauty of the human body, outbursts of passion, and dramatic confrontations.

His first paintings (Italian Noon, 1827, Russian Museum, Leningrad; and Bathsheba, 1832, Tret’iakov Gallery) early show his attempts to discard the conventions of academic painting, to capture the natural, sensuous charm of the nude body, and to attain greater accuracy and richness in daylight effects studied from nature.

Briullov’s principal work, The Last Day of Pompeii (1830-33, Russian Museum), depicts the destruction of the city during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. By portraying his heroes as beautiful noble people, he emphasized the tragedy of their inevitable doom and helplessness against the forces of nature. The idea of the painting obliquely reflected the atmosphere of historical conflicts that arose in Europe at a time of cruel suppression of liberation movements. In the picture there are still many traditional characteristics of academic classicism (ideal types and conventional groups) as well as numerous romantic theatrical effects. However, the painting represents an important stage in the development of Russian historical painting, because of Briullov’s striving for psychological truth and historical accuracy (his study of archaeological and documentary materials) and his bold attempt to present the diverse sufferings of a multitude in a moment of threatened disaster. Later ideas for large historical compositions (including an attempt to create a folk epic, The Siege of Pskov, 1839-43, Tret’iakov Gallery) were not successfully executed.

Briullov’s mastery of decorative art and his brilliant compositional skills can be seen in his effective formal portraits, which usually depict a person full-length against a landscape or richly furnished interior. They are full of the joy of life, romantic exaltation of feelings, and radiance of full colors (The Horsewoman, a portrait of Giovannina Pacini, 1832, and the portrait of V. A. Perovskii, 1837—both in the Tret’iakov Gallery; and the portrait of Iu. P. Samoilova and Amazilia Pacini, c. 1839, Russian Museum). The more intimate, severe, restrained portraits of members of the intelligentsia (N. V. Kukol’nik, 1836; I. A. Krylov, 1839; A. N. Strugovshchikov, 1840; Self-Portrait, 1848; and M. Lanchi, 1851—all in the Tret’iakov Gallery) are among the great achievements of Russian realistic portraiture. The portraits are imbued with the desire to reveal the complex character of the subject and the tension and, occasionally, the social significance of the intellectual’s life.

Briullov was also a remarkable master of the watercolor and sketch, in which he often achieved great accuracy of observation, a dynamic stroke, and scenic effects (Italian genre sketches and landscapes and sketches done during his travels in Greece and Turkey, 1835). Much of Briullov’s work is not free of the superficial prettiness and melodrama that came to characterize the Briullov school.


Rakova, M. M. Briullov-portretist. Moscow, 1956.
K. P. Briullov v pis’makh, dokumentakh i vospominaniiakh sovremennikov… , 2nd ed. Moscow, 1961.
Atsarkina, E. K. P. Briullov. Moscow, 1963.


References in periodicals archive ?
Briullov was a painter who was well versed in European artistic traditions.
Although Last Day of Pompeii is an outstanding example of a Romantic subject conceived in the manner of a grand history painting, it is the only such picture that Briullov ever finished.
Briullov sets this group in Samoilova's villa on Lake Como near Milan.
However, it was always rumoured that Briullov loved Samoilova.
That Briullov and Samoilova would not openly acknowledge a romantic relationship--if one existed--is no surprise, as the hierarchy of Russian society would not have permitted them to have had an open love affair.
Briullov not only seems to have bent the rules of Russian society in his affair with Samoilova, he may also have been artistically dating by encoding the portrait with expressions of his love and devotion to her while simultaneously presenting her with a lasting symbol of their romantic union.
As a Russian artist, Briullov likely would have been familiar with these major Russian portraits.
But whether one is inclined to see Samoilova as a Russian Tsarina or not, Briullov also uses visual symbols to show her as the western goddess of love --Venus.
While the dog is one loving reminder of the artist's commitment to Samoilova, Briullov went one step further and actually inserted himself into the painting.
A close examination reveals that Briullov may have playfully woven together a discreet pairing of his and Samoilova's initials in the centre of her belt buckle (Fig.
Briullov was called back to Russia to be a professor at the Academy of Arts in 1834, around the time that this painting was completed.
Was Gogol singular in his appreciation of the painter Briullov, or did the exhibition of "The Last Day of Pompeii" in 1834 have a broader influence among the Russian literary elite?