I was looking through my favourite paintings the other day and I thought it would be interesting to share with you.
Karl Brullov. The famous Russian painter of the Age of Romanticism.
He was born in Italy in 1799, and came to Russia with his father–a sculptor named Briullo whose last name was Russified to Briullov. He studied in the Imperial Academy of Art in St Petersburg. His probably most famous painting is “The Last Day of Pompeii”, a picture of the destruction of Pompeii in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. It is huge!
When “The Last Day of Pompeii” (1830-33) was finished, the Italian press hailed it as a masterpiece and Briullov became famous. Public enthusiasm is easy to understand, as Briullov offered something for every taste: he gave a melodramatic treatment of a classical subject with a wealth of realistic detail.
When he returned to Russia in 1841 Briullov was saluted as the greatest master of the day. He never did produce anything on this scale, but created many portraits and they were just beautiful.
Karl Brullov died in 1852 age 53 and was buried in his beloved Italy.
But one of his models especially captivated me. What an extraordinary woman! Her name was Countess Julia Samoilova. Not only was she extraordinarily beautiful, but fiercely independent, artistic and… well… very unusual.
Here is the first portrait of her by Brullov
Julia was born in 1804. She was the last scion of Skavronskiy family (a very influential and immensely rich family of the Polish origin). She was made a lady-in waiting and, aged 21, married count Nikolay Samoilov
Emperor Alexander I blessed their wedding but it turned out not very happy. Julia and Nikolai’s arguments were legendary. The young count had an unfortunate addiction to binge drinking and gambling.
In two years time the couple separated. Samoilov turned out to be a noble person, he returned Julia’s dowry ( remember, she was immensely rich) and stayed friends with her. But the scandal in the society was quite serious, even Julia’s own grandmother refused seeing her at some point.
What I find so remarkable about this woman (apart from her beauty ) is that she was so unconventional. Remember, we are talking about 19th century! So, she was ostracized in the high society of St Petersburg – what did she do? She went back to Italy. Simples!
In Milan she became a grand dame of the local society, surrounded herself with artists, composers, poets (among her friends were Bellini, Donizetti, Rossini), became the patron of artists and musicians.
There she met Karl Brullov. They fell in love and were there till his death in 1852. Julia outlived him for 23 years. Karl painted several portraits of his muse but only a few still exist.
After Julia’s grandmother died and left her more riches she returned to Russia. She hired Karl’s elder brother, an architect, to rebuild one of her newly acquired manors near St.Petersburg. According to her contemporaries, it was “a treasure, so elegant and wonderful, full of art”.
She kept entertaining there as she used to do it in Italy: invited musicians and poets, organized masquerades and balls. The atmosphere was free and informal. Julia was extremely independent (well, she could afford to be :)). She shocked the society with her extravagance and, in the end, the Emperor Nikolay I “gave her his royal permission to leave Russia”. Hint-hint!
Oh, well, never mind. Julia went to Italy again.
By that time Karl Brullov had married and divorced (after just two months), Julia’s husband had died, nothing kept them in Russia any more. Both loved Italy anyway so they lived happily at her villa. Unfortunately, not for ever after.
In 1845 Julia decided to break with Brullov and next year she, quite unexpectedly, married a young Italian tenor Perri, who was very handsome! But the new marriage bliss was not to last, alas…Next year Perri died of consumption in Venice. He was buried in Paris, at Pere Lachaise cemetery.
Apparently, the loss of the Countess title was very upsetting for Juia. For about 15 years she was missing it greatly. So, at the age of 60 she decided to marry again, this time a French aristocrat Count Charles de Mornes (not sure this is the correct spelling, sorry!). She received her title, he received a huge maintenance and they parted their ways.
Her life was quite sad in the end. Her adoptive daughters (she adopted two girls in 1830-s, they were allegedly the daughters of a poor Italian composer) were suing her (!) for money she had promised them and that wretched alimony she was paying to her third husband practically bankrupted her…
Julia died in Paris aged 71 and was buried next to her second husband.
In his painting “The Last Day of Pompeii” Karl Brullov painted her thrice: next to the painter with a pitcher on her head, fallen on the ground and as a mother hugging her two daughters…