“Portrait of Anna Akhmatova” by Nathan Altman
“Portrait of Anna Akhmatova” by Nathan Altman was inspired by the poet, who was one of the most significant Russian poets of the 20th century. She was shortlisted for the Nobel Prize in 1965 and received second-most nominations for the award the following year. Altman first met Akhmatova in Paris in 1911 and again during their meetings at the Stray Dog cabaret in St Petersburg.
This portrait is one of Nathan Altman’s most famous works and depicts Akhmatova as many contemporaries remembered her. She was a melancholy woman, tall and slim, with a sharp profile and a fringe. Altman shows the poet against a landscape of shining crystals, symbolizing her world of sublime and abstract dreams. The composition was conceived in Cubist style and painted in 1914 in Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg).
Anna Akhmatova (1889 – 1966), born Anna Andreyevna Gorenko, was a significant Russian poet. Her works range from short lyric poems to intricately structured cycles, such as Requiem, her tragic masterpiece about the Stalinist terror.
Her style, characterized by its economy and emotional restraint, was strikingly original and distinctive to her contemporaries. Her strong and clear female voice struck a new chord in Russian poetry.
Her work was condemned and censored by Stalinist authorities. However, she is notable for choosing not to emigrate. She remained in Russia, acting as a witness to the events around her. Her perennial themes include meditations on time and memory and the difficulties of living and writing in the shadow of Stalinism. For long periods she was in official disfavor. Many of those who were close to her died or were imprisoned in the aftermath of the revolution.
Later, Akhmatova was widely honored in the USSR and the West. She inspired and advised a large circle of critical young Soviet writers. She died in 1966 at the age of 76. Thousands attended the two memorial ceremonies, held in Moscow and Leningrad.
Nathan Isaevich Altman (1889 – 1970) was a Russian and Soviet avant-garde artist, Cubist painter, stage designer, and book illustrator. He was born in the Russian Empire (present-day Ukraine) to a family of Jewish merchants.
He studied painting and sculpture at the Art College in Odessa. In 1906, he had his first exhibition in Odessa. In 1910, he went to Paris, where he stayed for one year. He studied at the Free Russian Academy in Paris and had contact with Marc Chagall, Alexander Archipenko, and David Shterenberg.
For a while he moved between Paris and Leningrad, however, in 1936, he settled in Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg) and worked mainly for the theatre, as a book illustrator and an author of essays about art. He died in Leningrad, aged 81.
Portrait of Anna Akhmatova
- Title: Portrait of Anna Akhmatova
- Artist: Nathan Altman
- Created: 1914
- Medium: Oil on canvas
- Dimensions: 123 x 103 cm
- Type: Portraits by Famous Artists
- Museum: Russian Museum
- Name: Nathan Altman
- Birth Name: Nathan Isaevich Altman
- Russian: Натан Исаевич Альтман
- Born: 1889, Vinnytsia, Russian Empire (present-day Ukraine)
- Died: 1970 (aged 81), Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg)
- Nationality: Russian
- Movement: Cubist
- Notable work:
Explore the Hermitage Museum
- “Madonna Litta” attributed to Leonardo da Vinci
- Composition VI by Kandinsky
- “Portrait of Doña Antonia Zárate” by Francisco Goya
- “White House at Night” by Vincent van Gogh
- “The Three Graces” by Antonio Canova
- Egyptian Collection in the Hermitage Museum
- Gonzaga Cameo
- “Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss” by Antonio Canova
Anna Akhmatova Quotes
“Rising from the past, my shadow Is running in silence to meet me.”
“The secret of secrets is inside me again.”
“We learned not to meet anymore,
We don’t raise our eyes to one another,
But we ourselves won’t guarantee What could happen to us in an hour.”
“The stars of death stood over us.
And Russia, guiltless, beloved, writhed under the crunch of bloodstained boots,
under the wheels of Black Marias.”
“If I can’t have love,
if I can’t find peace,
Give me a bitter glory.”
“You will hear thunder and remember me,
And think: she wanted storms.
The rim Of the sky will be the color of hard crimson,
And your heart, as it was then, will be on fire.”
“It is unbearably painful for the soul to love silently.”
“As the future ripens in the past,
so the past rots in the future
– a terrible festival of dead leaves.”
“I am in the middle of it: chaos and poetry;
poetry and love and, again, complete chaos.
Pain, disorder, occasional clarity, and at the bottom of it all: only love; poetry.
Sheer enchantment, fear, humiliation. It all comes with love.”
“My shadow serves as the friend I crave.”
“I have long had this premonition of a bright day and a deserted house.”
“Real tenderness can’t be confused,
It’s quiet and can’t be heard.”
“Call me a sinner, Mock me maliciously:
I was your insomnia; I was your grief.”
“Forgive me, that I manage badly,
Manage badly but live gloriously,
That I leave traces of myself in my songs,
That I appeared to you in waking dreams.”
“There is a sacred, secret line in loving which attraction and even passion cannot cross.”
“Your voice is wild and simple. You are untranslatable into any one tongue.”
“Sunset in the ethereal waves:
I cannot tell if the day
is ending, or the world, or if
the secret of secrets is inside me again.”
“In the terrible years of the Yezhov terror,
I spent seventeen months waiting in line outside the prison in Leningrad.
One day somebody in the crowd identified me
. . . and asked me in a whisper . . .”
“This cruel age has deflected me, like a river from this course.
Strayed from its familiar shores, my changeling life has flowed into a sister channel.
How many spectacles I’ve missed: the curtain rising without me, and falling too.
How many friends I never had the chance to meet.”
“The whole time I was hoping my silence would fit yours and exclamation marks would gently float across time and space so that boundaries would be crossed; the whole time I was praying you would read my eyes and understand what I was never able to understand. See, we were never about butterflies. We’ve always been about burning stars. All about us is unearthly and radiant.”
“You thought I was that type: that you could forget me, and that I’d plead and weep and throw myself under the hooves of a bay mare, or that I’d ask the sorcerers for some magic potion made from roots and send you a terrible gift: my precious perfumed handkerchief. Damn you! I will not grant your cursed soul vicarious tears or a single glance. And I swear to you by the garden of the angels, I swear by the miracle-working icon, and by the fire and smoke of our nights: I will never come back to you.’
During the terrible years of the Yekhov terror, I spent seventeen months in the prison queues in Leningrad. One day someone ‘identified’ me. Then a woman with lips blue with cold who was standing behind me, and of course, had never heard of my name, came out of the numbness which affected us all and whispered in my ear—(we all spoke in whispers there): ‘Could you describe this?’ I said, ‘I can!’ Then something resembling a smile slipped over what had once been her face.”
“If you were music,
I would listen to you ceaselessly,
and my low spirits would brighten up.”
– Anna Akhmatova
Photo Credit 1) Nathan Altman [Public domain]