The Last Day of Pompeii, 1830-1833, oil on canvas, The Russian Museum, St-Petersburg, Russia.
An enormous composition (465.5 cm × 651 cm) painted in Italy was a great success both with the public and the critics. The topic is classical, but Briullov’s dramatic treatment and generous use of chiaroscuro render it farther advanced from the neoclassical style. In fact, The Last Day of Pompeii exemplifies 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 zealous fondness for historical subjects.
The Russian painter visited the site of Pompeii in 1828 and made numerous sketches. Depicting the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD, the completed canvas was exhibited in Rome to rapturous reviews of critics and thereafter transported to Paris to be displayed in the Louvre. The first Russian artwork to cause such an interest abroad, it gave birth to an anthologic poem by Alexander Pushkin. British author Walter Scott declared that it was not an ordinary painting but an epic in colours.