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 Nathan Altman

Born:   December 22 [O.S. December 10] 1889
Deceased:   December 12, 1970

Soviet painter, avant-garde artist (cubist), portrait master, sculptor and stage designer, and the Merited Artist of RSFSR (1968


Nathan Isayevich Altman was born on December 10 (22), 1889 into the family of a Jewish dealer in Vinnitsa. As a little boy he lost his father. From 1902 to 1907 he studied fine arts in the Odessa Art School and then continued his education in a private studio in Paris (1910 — 1911). During this period he came under the influence of modernism, in particular cubism.

From 1912 he lived in St. Petersburg. He co-founded The Jewish Society for Encouragement of Arts. After the revolution of 1917 he participated in design of revolutionary festivals in Petrograd (1918) and Moscow (1921 — 1928). He proved to be “a court artist” as well, having modeled Lenin's realistic sculptural portrait from life (bronze, 1920, kept in the Leningrad branch of the V. I. Lenin Central Museum), and created a series of pencil sketches of Lenin. However, the artist’s most well-known portrait is his painting of the poetess Anna Akhmatova (1914, kept in the Russian Museum).
In April 9, 1922 the State Jewish Theater gave the premiere of the Uriel Akosta play with the scenery by Nathan Altman, who replaced Marc Chagall in the theater. Another play with stage design by Nathan Altman premiered in the same 1922: it was Gadibuk staged by Yevgeny Vakhtangov in the Gabim theatre studio. Both the stage productions had a great public response. Successful collaboration of Altman, Granovsky, Mikhoels, and the composer Pulver in the theater suggested them an idea of making a film together. The scenario was based on a book by Shalom Aleichem (nickname of Shalom Rabinovich) and was titled Jewish Happiness. 

Isaak Babel authored the captions. In 1925 the film crew started off to hunt nature. Nathan Altman invited the crew to his hometown of Vinnitsa, with one of its districts remaining in its original condition very similar to settlements of the time of Shalom Aleichem. In the same year Nathan Altman together with Aleksandra Exster, Vadim Meller, Sonya Terk and other artists from the USSR participated in the International Exhibition of Modern Industrial and Decorative Arts (Art Deco) in Paris.
In the spring of 1928 Nathan Altman with the Moscow State Jewish Theater went on tour to Europe and then stayed in Paris till 1935. Upon returning to the USSR he found himself in the atmosphere of Stalinist repressions terror. In that period he stopped easel painting and took up designing and book illustrations. In particular, he created illustrations to Petersburg Stories by Nikolai Gogol, the edition published in 1937.
In 1935 he married Irina Shchegoleva, the daughter of V. A. Ternavtsev.
The theater took a very important place in the creativity of Nathan Altman: the artist designed scenery for V. V. Mayakovsky’s play Mystery Bouffe (1921, Moscow Circus) and William Shakespeare’s Hamlet (1954, the A.S. Pushkin Leningrad Drama Theater).
Nathan Altman died on December 12, 1970 in Leningrad and was laid to rest at the Komarovo Necropolis in the Komarovo Settlement.

Tags: Nathan Altman Russian Painters    

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