The best known is his pictorial portrait of A.A. Akhmatova (1914, Russian Museum)

Nathan Isaevich Altman and his multifaceted talent

Nathan Altman. Lady with a Dog (portrait by Esther Schwartzman)
Lady with a Dog (portrait by Esther Schwartzman)

Nathan Isaevich Altman (born December 22, 1889 – died December 12, 1970) was an outstanding Russian and Soviet painter of the twentieth century of Jewish origin, avant-garde artist, illustrator, monumentalist, graphic artist, sculptor, designer and set designer, master portrait. Nathan Altman created about 200 paintings of various genres, his creative range was unusually wide. Natan Isaevich Altman possessed a rare quality – innate professionalism. Thanks to an exceptionally sensitive perception of the world around him, he enthusiastically picked up the actual artistic ideas of his time.

Nathan Altman. Material selection
Material selection


Nathan Altman was born on December 22, 1889 in Vinnitsa, in a poor Jewish family. When the child was 4 years old, his father died of consumption. Tired of need, the mother moved abroad, and left her son to be raised by her grandmother. Despite the vicissitudes of fate, Nathan Altman graduated from both a Russian elementary school and a cheder. From childhood, he had a craving for drawing, so in 1902 he went to Odessa to study at an art school. There, the young man was engaged in painting and sculpture at the same time. Disappointed with the presentation of the material, the young man left the educational institution ahead of schedule and returned home to Vinnitsa. During this period, the first cycle of portraits was created (“Lady on the Balcony”, “Grandmother”).

Nathan Altman. Meeting Shabbat
Meeting Shabbat

Nathan Altman continued to master the profession already in 1910, in a Parisian private studio.

In France, he became close friends with Marc Chagall, Osip Zadkin, David Shterenberg and became interested in Cubism. At first, the artist perceived paints only as a color palette (Self-Portrait, 1911), but soon his strokes will be condensed and acquire magical possibilities: form building and volumetric modeling. In the fall of 1911, Nathan Altman returned to his homeland, to Vinnitsa, where he painted self-portraits and stories on Jewish themes.

Nathan Altman. Petrokommuna 1921
Petrokommuna 1921

Drawn by dreams of a bohemian life in the capital, in 1912 the nugget moved to St. Petersburg. There he works on paintings in an original manner, tries his hand at applied graphics (posters, advertisements), takes part in avant-garde exhibitions and quickly gains fame. The main masterpiece created in 1914 – the portrait of Anna Andreevna Akhmatova – becomes a real sensation: critic Lev Alexandrovich Bruni called this work “a milestone in art.”

Nathan Altman. Portrait of E.V. Dzyubinskaya-Adamova
Portrait of E.V. Dzyubinskaya-Adamova

The artist, like almost all avant-garde artists, met the October Revolution with enthusiasm and actively collaborated with the new government. The genius was able to become imbued with the spirit of the times: he welcomed the exit of art from salons on the squares, onto the streets to the broad masses and expanded the range of his activities – he taught, published in newspapers and magazines, supervised the creation of museums, painted dishes, made sketches of stamps, posters, emblems.

Still life 1914. Nathan Altman
Still life 1914

In 1921 Natan Isaevich moved to Moscow.

From Anatoly Vasilyevich Lunacharsky, he receives an important task – to create a portrait of Lenin. Using pencil sketches from nature, made in the personal office of Vladimir Ilyich, the master sculpted a realistic bronze sculpture of the leader of the world proletariat. And in 1926 the first personal exhibition took place in Moscow. Remaining a free anarchist at heart, Altman increasingly began to use unconventional materials in his work.

Still life with a white jug. Nathan Altman
Still life with a white jug

In the 1920s, the artist worked as a stage designer in a theater. In 1928, while touring Europe, Nathan Altman and his wife decided to stay in Paris. Here avant-gardism gave way to neo-realism. Having started to paint in oils, the painter showed himself to be a brilliant colorist. At the end of 1935, the family union broke up, and Natan Isaevich returned to the USSR. The Kremlin authorities did not begin to remind him of emigration, but because of the ideological press, the artist moved away from easel painting and devoted himself to design, book illustrations, and decoration of stage sets.

Still life. Color volumes and planes
Still life. Color volumes and planes

In 1968 Nathan Altman was awarded the title of Honored Artist of the RSFSR. The master died on December 12, 1970 in Leningrad and was buried in Komarovo, not far from the grave of Anna Akhmatova.

The most famous paintings by Nathan Isaevich Altman

Nathan Altman’s paintings are written in an impeccably artistic, easily perceived form. Among his best works are:

  • “Self-portrait” (1911) – the work, written in Vinnitsa, was made in the avant-garde style, close to cubism and futurism. “Jewish Funeral” (1911) – the work is inspired by longing, sad memories of the death of his grandfather.
  • “Portrait of A. A. Akhmatova” (1914) – the picture reveals all the greatness and drama of the fate of the famous contemporary of the author. She was and remains a symbol of the Russian avant-garde.
  • “Lady at the Piano” (1914) – the author managed to accurately convey the character and mood of the model.
  • “Russia. Labor “(1921) – a large-scale panel, a magnificent example of poster painting of the 20s of the last century.
The best known is his pictorial portrait of A.A. Akhmatova (1914, Russian Museum)
The best known is his pictorial portrait of A.A. Akhmatova (1914, Russian Museum)
The grave of the artist Altman - an inscription on the back of the monument
Grave of the artist Altman – an inscription on the back of the monument
The grave of the artist Altman and his wife
The grave of the artist Altman and his wife
The grave of the artist in the Komarovsky Necropolis
The grave of the artist in the Komarovsky Necropolis
Uncle of the artist 1913
Uncle of the artist 1913
Watchmaker 1914
Watchmaker 1914