January 01, 2000

Karl Bryullov: Russia's First Master Painter

The year was 1834. At the Paris Art Salon, a new work by a young painter from Russia, Karl Bryullov, overshadowed all competing works. Even “The Martyrdom of St. Symphorian,” by the elder master, Jean-Auguste Dominique Ingres, paled in comparison.

Ironically, Bryullov’s family—named Bryullo—had fled France about a century and a half before. They, like many Protestants, felt threatened when, in 1685, Louis XIV rescinded the Edict of Nantes, which had granted non-Catholics important political rights. The family headed east, to Russia, where the upper classes embraced all things French. A century later, on December 23, 1799, Karl Pavlovich Bryullo was born into a thoroughly russified family. His father, Pavel Ivanovich, was a retired professor at the Academy of Arts and baptized Russian Orthodox. But it was not until the painter took his first trip abroad that he modified his family name to “Bryullov,” to make it sound more Russian.

So it was that Bryullov’s genealogy added an unintended taste of sweet revenge when his masterwork, “The Last Day of Pompei,” wowed both the public and the jury, taking the Paris Art Salon’s gold medal in 1834.

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