Karl Pavlovich Bryullov, The Last Day of Pompeii

State Russian Museum, Saint Petersburg (Государственный Русский музей)

Date: 1830-33
Technique: Oil on canvas, 465.5 x 651 cm

Bryullov visited the site of Pompeii in 1828, making numerous sketches depicting the AD 79 Vesuvius eruption. The completed canvas was exhibited in Rome to rapturous reviews of critics and thereafter transported to Paris to be displayed in the Louvre. The first Russian artwork to cause such an interest abroad, it gave birth to an anthologic poem by Alexander Pushkin, and inspired the hugely successful novel The Last Days of Pompeii by Edward Bulwer-Lytton, who saw it in Rome. Another British author, Sir Walter Scott declared that it was not an ordinary painting but an epic in colours.

The topic is classical, but Bryullov's dramatic treatment and generous use of chiaroscuro render it farther advanced from the neoclassical style. In fact, The Last Day of Pompeii exemplifies many of the characteristics of Romanticism as it manifests itself in Russian art, including drama, realism tempered with idealism, increased interest in nature, and a zealous fondness for historical subjects.

The commissioner, Prince Anatole Demidov, donated the painting to Nicholas I of Russia who displayed it at the Imperial Academy of Arts for the instruction of young painters. To present the painting to a wider audience the canvas was transferred to the Russian Museum for the museum's opening in 1895.

Bryullov included a self portrait in the upper left corner of the painting, under the steeple, one of the several foci in the picture, but not easy to identify.

Bryullov’s monumental historical painting The Last Day of Pompeii (1827) brought him the greatest acclaim during his lifetime.


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