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Karl Brulloff biography

Facts about Karl Brulloff biography & life


Karl was a Russian painter during the early part of the 19th century. His work belonged to the transition phase between neo-classicism and romanticism. He was the first Russian painter to win wide recognition in the West. His masterpiece the THE LAST DAY OF POMPEII(1830-33) was a huge work done in Italy. The public and his critics hailed his work and called him one of the best contemporary European painters. Critics in Italy compared him to the great men like Rubens, Rembrandt and Van Dyke.

Karl was born in 1799 in St Petersburg into an Italian family. Three earlier generations of Karl as well as his two elder brothers Fedor and Alexander were all painters. Karl and his brothers received their education in the Academy in St Petersburg where their father was also a member. Karl who entered the Academy in 1809 soon advanced faster than his classmates due to his inherited talents. During that time the Academy teachings were based on Classicism and Karl’s early works amply reflected this.

The French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars forced a lot of changes in Europe. This impacted the fashions and existing tastes too. This heralded the advent of Romanticism in art and literature. Notable among Karl’s early works NARCISSUS(1819) while done in Classic principles was unorthodox in its making because nature had inspired the maker, characteristic of the later Romantics.

It took some time for Karl to break away from Classicism. His graduation work THREE ANGELS APPEAR TO ABRAHAM NEAR THE OAKS OF MAMRE though done with technical brilliance was quite conventional. The student fell in line with the set trends then. He got a gold medal for this.

1821 saw Karl graduating with distinction. His independent work during 1821-23 clearly show his rapid change from Classicism to Romanticism. The focus was on the portrait. This was frowned upon by the Academy as low in taste but was essential to idealise Romanticism. Some of these works are PORTRAIT OF THE SECRETARY OF STATE PIOTR KIKIN(Karl’s patron), and his wife M.A.Kikina, their daughter Maria Kikina, and the” Portrait of the Actor A.N.Ramazanov”.

Karl and his brother Alexander were sent to Europe in 1822 to study art. They were pensioners of the new “Society for the promotion of the Artists”. Brullof did not like anything against Classic ideals. He expressed his feelings in the letters he wrote home. He and his brother travelled through Germany, Austria, Venice and Florence.
Arriving in Rome, Karl found the city irresistible. He spent
13 years in Italy studying antiques, copying old masters’ works and doing drawings of the streets of Rome. He made a lot of paintings of everyday Roman life. ITALIAN MIDDAY(1827) was an important genre work of Karl.

Using various techniques he created over 120 portraits. Most important are of Grand Duchess Elena Pavlovna, Prince G.Gagarin, Countess Yu Samoilova, and her foster children Princess 2 Volkonskaya, Karl’s brother Alexander, A.Lvov, Architect K.A.Ton, Italian singers Juditta Pasta and Fanny Persiani-Tacinardi. Some of his self portraits are at Uffizy gallery.

Here he met Countess Yulia Samoilova who became his lifelong mistress. Since Yulia was already married they could not legalise their relationship.
Yulia had already separated from her husband but not divorced because of the restrictions of the Orthodox Church.

The Society required its pensioners a large historical picture. Karl visited the ruins of Pompeii in 1827 and was greatly inspired by the town preserved well beneath the volcanic ashes. He surveyed the remnants of the town, the artefacts, letters of Pliny the Younger(eye witness) and commenced his work after six years.

His LAST DAYS OF POMPEII(1830-33) was a runaway success in Italy because it blended Classical principles and Romantic ideals. The work was displayed in the LOUVRE in Paris though it received lukewarm welcome.
This was because the transition from Classicism to Romanticism in France had long been over.

Karl’s health had started deteriorating by 1840s due to his unrestrained lifestyle, unhappy marriage and hard work on the frescoes in St Isaac’s Cathedral in St Petersburg. He travelled to Germany, England and Madeira in 1849 hoping that the warmer climate would aid his recovery, which did happen. However he died of a stroke in Rome on 23rd June 1852.

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