Karl Pavlovich Bryullov (St. Petersburg 1799 - Marciano 1852)

Greek Lying on a Rock & Study of a Head

one signed with monogram (upper right)
ink on paper; pencil on paper
21.7 x 26 cm (8⅝ x 10¼ in); 25.3 x 20.3 cm (10 x 8 in)(2)

Slumped against a rock, the Greek casually gazes up at the viewer, leaning his head on his right arm.¹ The sword, propped against the man’s legs, lies redundant and the composition is awkward; this may suggest that the weapon was a last minute addition, perhaps to identify the Greek as a soldier. The lazy and relaxed posture of the man contrasts with the concerned expression of his face. The man appears weary and his face is cast down, however, his eyes stare wildly out at the viewer. This might suggest that the drawing was completed in a short space of time, perhaps from life, when the artist travelled through Greece. However, it could also be that Karl Pavlovich Bryullov depicted the man’s eyes in such a manner in order to evoke the common nineteenth-century perception of the East as a wild and mysterious place.

The roughly drawn background indicates a wild and sparse landscape, and in the distance an architectural form can be seen atop a rocky hill. The inclusion of a background gives the painting a sense of depth and these compositional experiments may indicate that Bryullov was planning another work, perhaps a painting, based on this drawing.

Bryullov’s work is rich with emotion and imagination. Greek Lying on a Rock, is representative of the artist’s observations from his travels. Bryullov’s interest in the clothing and accessories of the Greek is apparent by his detailed and descriptive depiction.

Bryullov’s Study of a Head is a particularly interesting piece. At first glance the drawing seems to represent a suspicious-looking character; however, on closer inspection, the viewer notices the long, hooked nose, pointed hat and haggard face - all the characteristics of a witch. Folklore was an important part of Russian culture, especially during the nineteenth century. Stemming from Slavic mythology, Russian fairy tales are still prevalent today. The present drawing of Study of a Head depicting a figure with witch-like characteristics could be a representation of Baba Yaga. Baba Yaga features prominently in Russian tales - usually portrayed as a hag who flies through the air in a mortar, using the pestle as a rudder and sweeping away her tracks with a broom made from silver birch. She is nearly always a character to be feared and is constantly presented shrouded in mystery. In the drawing Study of a Head, ,Bryullov presents his figure turned to the side, looking back out at the viewer and clutching what looks like a broom. Other Russian artists at the time also included mythological subject matter into their work, especially those of the revivalist movement, and most notably Viktor Mikhailovich Vasnetsov.

Bryullov was the Russian son of an Italian sculptor; he enrolled at the Imperial Academy, St Petersburg at the early age of nine and studied from 1809 to 1821 under Andrei Ivanov (1772-1848). Bryullov never fully embraced the neo-Classical style taught by the Academy, preferring instead realistic accuracy counter-balanced with a love of romanticised melodrama. He travelled to Rome after completing his studies and established himself as a promising and imaginative student. Bryullov predominantly worked as a portrait and genre painter, however, he is best known for his historical painting The Last Days of Pompeii, 1830-1833. The subject matter is classical, but his dramatic treatment and generous use of chiaroscuro renders the painting somewhat farther advanced than the neo-Classical style. Before returning to Russia, Bryullov travelled to Greece, Turkey and Asia Minor and as ‘a master of drawing, sepia and watercolour’ produced a suite of studies of Greece; the present drawings are most probably part of this set of works.² On his return to Russia in 1835, he became a professor and between 1843 and 1847 he undertook the decorations for St. Isaacs’s Cathedral. He has works in many collections throughout Europe and is remembered as ‘one of the most significant Russian painters’.³

These drawings exemplify 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 fondness for historical subjects.

¹ For a similar ink drawing of a Greek, see Leontieva, G., Karl Briullov (Leningrad, 1986), p. 65, ill.
² Lloyd, B.G., The St. Petersburg State Academic Institute of Fine Arts, Sculpture and Architecture, (St. Petersburg, 2001), p.112.
³ Boime, A., Art in an Age of Counterrevolution, 1815-1848, Vol. 3, (Chicago, 2004), p. 269.