Nathan Altman’s art on display in St Petersburg for first time in 50 years
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Nathan Altman’s art on display in St Petersburg for first time in 50 years

Russian museum displaying Soviet avant-garde artist's work, who pushed boundaries and embraced his Jewish heritage

Anna Akhmatova by Nathan Altman
Anna Akhmatova by Nathan Altman

St Petersburg this week began hosting the first large exhibition of Soviet avant-garde artist Nathan Altman’s paintings in half a century.

Famed for his 1914 portrait of Russian poet Anna Akhmatova, known to many from visits to its permanent exhibition at the Russian Museum, Altman pushed boundaries and embraced his Jewish heritage throughout his work during the 20th century.

Born in modern day Ukraine in 1889 to a Jewish family of merchants, he studied in Odessa before moving to Paris where he met fellow Jewish artist Marc Chagall. 

He later moved to St Petersburg (or Petrograd, as it was then called), where he worked as a stage designer while painting in the Cubist style.

In Moscow, he exhibited at the Jewish Society for the Furthering of
the Arts and worked on stage designs for the Habimah Theatre and the Jewish State Theatre. In 1923, a volume of his Jewish graphic art was published in Berlin. He returned to Paris for six years in the 1930s.

The St Petersburg Gallery – KGallery – has been collecting Altman’s art from private collections, the Russian Museum, the Peterhof State Museum-Reserve, the Museum of the History of St Petersburg, and the Museum of Theatre and Musical Art.

It has had some unexpected success, even managing to arrange the display of Altman’s sculpture titled Self-portrait (Portrait of a Young Jew) from 1916, which rarely leaves the secure confines of the Russian Museum.

The exhibition, which runs until 13 June, will display works from his two Parisian periods as well as projects for the revolutionary design of Russia’s most famous city.

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