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Anna Akhmatova and Amedeo Modigliani


We know not a lot about the relationship between the poet and the artist, mostly from Anna Akhmatova herself. For a long time only close friends knew about their acquaintance. Their relationship lasted only a couple of months, but left a serious mark on the life and work of the poetess.


On July 12, 1884, in Italy, Amedeo Clemente Modigliani, an artist and sculptor, one of the most famous artists of the early XX century, was born into a family of Sephardic Jews. In Russia, his name is known not only for his creativity, but also in connection with a bright and stormy romance with a young Anna Akhmatova.

They met for the first time in Paris, in 1906. Then, the 24-year-old Italian of Jewish origin Amadeo Modigliani came to the French capital to declare himself as a talented artist. At that time he was very poor and unknown to anyone, but Amadeo attracted many people with his charisma and charm. Later, Akhmatova reminded that in their first meeting Modigliani was dressed very brightly and luridly, in yellow corduroy trousers and a bright jacket of the same colour. He looked rather ridiculous, but the artist was able to teach himself so gracefully that he seemed to her an elegant handsome man, dressed in the latest Parisian fashion.

At that time, 20-year-old Anna came to Paris for her honeymoon with her husband Nikolai Gumilyov, with whom they had become engaged shortly before. It is not known exactly where and under what circumstances Akhmatova met Modigliani. There are many assumptions, one of the most common is that they met in the Rotunda cafe.

Café de la Rotonde (archive photo)

The young poetess amazed the whole city with her beauty, including the young artist, who asked to paint her portrait. This is how the story of their short love began.

In 1910, I saw him extremely rarely, only a few times. Nevertheless, he wrote to me all the winter.

Anna Akhmatova
Amedeo Modigliani in his workshop in Paris, 1915

She later said that, when she first met Amedeo, she was struck by his “inner glow.” He was very handsome and seemed to glow from the inside.

Soon after returning to St. Petersburg, Gumilev leaves his young wife for six months on his famous trip to Africa. Akhmatova got the nicknamed “the straw widow.” The foreign admirer Modigliani begins to shower the young beauty with letters, confessing his love and begging for at least one more meeting. Anna’s big quarrel with her husband after his return brought the meeting of lovers closer: in 1911, she fled to Paris to Amadeo.

You are in me like an obsession.

Modigliani wrote to Anna after she left Paris

Unfortunately, not a single letter from Modigliani has left, they were burned down during a fire in Akhmatova’s house, and we know the excerpts from Anna’s recollections.

Left: Portrait of Akhmatova. Sorin S.A., 1914 | Right: Portrait of Akhmatova. Olga Della-Vos Kardovskaya, 1914

However, what she saw amazed her: the thin, pale, haggard artist could not stand the beggarly life and became addicted to wine and drugs. It seemed that Amadeo had aged at once by many years. However, in love with Akhmatova, the passionate Italian still seemed to be the most beautiful man in the world, burning her, as before, with a mysterious and piercing look. They spent an unforgettable three months together. Modigliani was unable to take Anna anywhere, so they just walked in the evenings along the Parisian streets.

In the rain, Modigliani took his large black umbrella, under which they sat on the bench more than once and read poetry aloud. Both loved Verlaine, and both could not stand Anatole France.

He was so poor that in the Luxembourg Gardens we always sat on a bench, and not on paid chairs, as was customary.

Nevertheless, she remembered Amedeo strong and patient.

Left: Portrait of Akhmatova, Nathan Altman, 1914 | Right: Portrait of Akhmatova by N. A. Tyrsa. 1928

He did not complain at all about a completely obvious poverty, or about an equally obvious non-recognition. Only once, in 1911, he said that last winter he felt so bad that he could not even think about her.

In a small rented room, the poetess posed for the artist for his new paintings. According to friends, Amadeo painted more than 10 portraits of Akhmatova, however, the further fate of most of these works remained unknown: some said that the portraits were burnt in a fire, others claimed that Anna hid them, wanting to hide her passionate love for the Italian. We know of only two paintings that depict a naked woman, with features reminiscent of a Russian poetess.

Amedeo drew Akhmatova on 16 sketches, mainly in the nude genre, 15 of which, according to Anna, burned down in the Tsarskoye Selo house in the early years of the revolution. And only 1 sketch, her favourite, was always with her. Unfortunately, these sketches were not destined to become finished paintings or graphic works.

Akhmatova by Modigliani, 1911 year. She kept this drawing for all her life

After 2 months, in 1911, Anna returned to Russia. They never saw each other again and, apparently, did not even correspond. Anna often asked her acquaintances, who were coming from Paris, about Modigliani, but each time it turned out that no one had heard of him.

What kind of inheritance can we talk about? Take Modi’s drawing and leave.

she said to notary A. Naiman about her will

Modigliani did not grieve for long and soon became carried away by the French artist Jeanne Hébuterne, who gave birth to his daughter.

Anna learned about his death in 1920 by chance from a newspaper a few years later.

Left: Portrait of Akhmatova by Zinaida Serebryakova, 1922 | Right: Portrait of Akhmatova by Martiros Saryan, 1946

Already in her declining years, in 1965, the poetess visited Paris for the third time. As her companion, the writer Georgy Adamovich, recalls, Akhmatova was happy to talk about Modigliani.

This is my window, on the 2nd floor. How many times has he been here with me …

she whispered, standing at the Bonaparte street

In the Western countries the documents about Akhmatova associated with Modigliani’s name do not exist at all. The main sources are memoirs. Thus, the sketch, the drawing are the only published documents. There are not many of them, but quite enough to understand why Modigliani in Akhmatova’s life was “to blame for many disasters” and could “even bring disorder to sleep”, and also why Akhmatova was an obsession for him, happiness, “an angel with a sad face” – a source inspiration for many of his works.

But in 1993, at an exhibition organised by Paul Alexander, a close friend of Modigliani, 7 more sketches in the same style were shown to the world.