The last day of Pompeii

Karl Bryullov • Painting, 1830-th , 465.5×651 cm
Digital copy: 9.1 MB
7213 × 5047 px • JPEG
49.4 × 35.3 cm • 363 dpi
122.1 × 85.5 cm • 150 dpi
61.1 × 42.7 cm • 300 dpi
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About the artwork
Art form: Painting
Subject and objects: Historical scene
Style of art: Romanticism
Technique: Oil
Materials: Canvas
Date of creation: 1830-th
Size: 465.5×651 cm
Artwork in selections: 117 selections
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Description of the artwork «The last day of Pompeii»

The most significant historical events have always been reflected in works of art. They excited the imagination of both contemporaries and those who lived centuries apart from what happened. Such a grandiose tragedy that took the lives of many people was the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, which buried the prosperous and beautiful city of Pompeii under a layer of ash.

Impressed by his visit to the excavations, Karl Bryullov came up with the idea to create "The Death of Pompeii" painting. His interest in this historical event did not arise by itself, but thanks to the stories of the artist's brother, an architect Alexander Bryullov. In addition, paintings on similar subjects were in vogue at the time. The painter, who had stayed in Italy for quite a long time, began to feel a somewhat disdainful attitude towards himself and his work on the part of local art people. Some of them believed that Karl was not able to paint something more significant than the small genre paintings, which had made him famous. Conceiving "The Last Day of Pompeii", Bryullov not only wanted to create a canvas of colossal size and idea, but also to dispel the prejudices of the arrogant Italians.

It took almost six years from the first sketches to the appearance of the final version of the picture. Considered one of the most significant works of the artist, this painting is housed in the Russian Museum in St. Petersburg. It is one of the most frequently visited and loved by the public. However, many sketches in pencil, watercolor and oil preceded the creation of the painting. One of the versions of The Death of Pompeii, which Bryullov painted in 1828, is in the State Tretyakov Gallery, and it arouses no less interest among visitors than the finished work.

Looking at it, one can easily imagine how important it was for the young ambitious painter to produce a masterpiece dedicated to the tragic death of the ancient city. Each sketch was the other stage of the artist's creative path that was bringing him closer to the final goal.

Description of Bryullov’s The Last Day of Pompeii painting

Studying a painting on a historical subject is a fascinating thing. It is all the more interesting to get acquainted with the sketches that preceded its creation. The many details, the general vein of the painting, the color scheme - everything undergoes changes depending on how the artist's vision changes or what becomes more significant for him or fades into the background.

It took only 11 months for Bryullov to finish The Last Day of Pompeii. At the same time, it took him six years to develop the final version of the picture. The sketch of 1828 lacks some of the details that can be seen on the canvas from the Russian Museum.

The central group was invariably transferred by Bryullov from sketch to sketch: this is a family with two small children that is fleeing from the wrath of Vesuvius. Another detail that is present in all versions of the picture is a woman who died when falling from a chariot. The child who was with her survived. He embraces his mother in despair, his eyes full of fear of impending disaster. Apparently, the deceased was a noble Pompeian, as evidenced by the jewels that were scattered from the blow on the stone pavement. Many critics, including the painter's contemporaries, saw the death of the entire ancient world in the death of this poor woman.