Karl Bryullov

Portrait of Karl Bryullov

Karl Bryullov was a Russian painter. He is regarded as a key figure in transition from the Russian neoclassicism to romanticism. He was born in St Petersburg on 23rd December 1799 (as Charles Bruleau) and died in Manziana, Italy on 11th June 1852 aged 52.

Major Works

“Italian Morning” (1823)
“Italian Midday” (1827)
Girl gathering grapes in the vicinity of Naples” (1827)
“A Dream of a Girl Before a Sunrise” (1830-1833)
“The Last Day of Pompeii” (1830-33)
“Daughters of Pacini, Giovannina and Amazilia” (1832)


Karl Pavlovich Bryullov was born on 12th December 1799 in St Petersburg, Russia. His parents were French Huguenots and he held the name Charles Bruleau until 1822. His father Pavel Ivanovich Briullo and his forefathers were all artists and Karl was first taught the craft by his father who was a sculptor, engraver and a member of the Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg.

1809: He studies at the Academy of Arts in St Petersburg and learns classical painting under Andrey Ivanov, Aleksey Yegorov and Vasily Shebuev.

1819: He paints one of his first works “Narcissus” in a classical style. Bryullov receives a gold medal for it and a scholarship from the Society for the Promotion of Artists, which gave bursaries for artists to travel abroad to Germany and Italy. 

1821: He finishes at the Academy and works as an independent artist and his style moves on from the classicism of the Academy to Romanticism. He begins to paint portraits, which were looked down upon by the Academy as being a lower form of art. He paints a portrait of his early patron, the Secretary of State Pyotr Kikin and his wife and daughter.

1822: Karl and his brother Aleksandr, an architect, leave for Europe. They travel through Germany, Austria and then to Italy visiting Venice and Florence before arriving in in Rome. Bryullov makes copies of Raphael’s Vatican murals, paints portraits of visitors and famous Russians as well as young Italian women and scenes from everyday Roman life. 

1827: The Society for the Promotion of Artists required that all winners paint at least one large historical painting. Bryullov visits the excavation site of Pompeii and is very impressed with the area. However, it was to be another six years before his idea for a Pompeii epic turned into reality. 

1830: He starts painting “The Last Day of Pompeii” on a 456.5cm x 651cm canvass and the Russian art collector Count Anatoly Demidov funds the process. Visitors are invited to his studio to see the work in progress.

1832: He begins painting a portrait of Countess Julia Samoilova known as “Russian Lady of Milan” which includes her foster-daughter and a black servant. She was infatuated with Bryullov but couldn’t marry him, as although separated from her husband, divorce was not allowed in the Orthodox church.

1833: He finishes “The Last Day of Pompeii” and it is thought that he paints the figure of the Roman Pliny, who witnessed the eruption at Pompeii, in the right of the painting. The work is an immediate success and tours several Italian cities and Bryullov is hailed as a great artist of the standing of Rubens. Sir Walter Scott visits the studio for an hour and is mesmerised by the painting. Bryullov receives honorary memberships at the Academies of Florence, Milan, Bologna and Parma.

1834: “The Last Day of Pompeii” is exhibited at the Louvre in Paris and wins an award at the Paris Salon there. It is also put on show in the hall of the Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg to great acclaim.

1835: He leaves Rome to return to Russia where he is welcomed as the greatest living master and is granted an audience with the Emperor Nicholas I. Russian critics lavish praise on “The Last Day of Pompeii” and Aleksandr Pushkin writes a poem on the subject.

1836: He is appointed Professor at the Academy of Arts. He continues to paint portraits and takes a great interest in his students. Sadly, he was not able to achieve the same fame with his other works and the only large-scale paintings he completed during the following few years were altarpieces for Kazan Cathedral and the Church of SS Peter and Paul in St. Petersburg. A fall from the platform of St Isaacs Cathedral in Petersburg, whilst painting frescoes, badly affected his later health and he was unable to finish the commission. 

1849: Following advice from his doctors to seek a warmer clime Bryullov goes to Madeira.

1850: He returns to Rome and lives with the family of Angelo Tittoni who was one of Giuseppe Garibaldi’s whom he had become friendly with.  He paints several paintings during his time there including a portrait of Tittoni. 

Karl Bryllov died on 11th June 1852 of a stroke in the village of Manziana near Rome, Italy and is buried in the Cimitero Acattolico di Roma.

Further Information

Examples of Bryllov’s paintings.