Karl Briullov

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

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.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.