Anna and Amedeo - Amedeo Modigliani. Nude. (Anna Akhmatova). c.1911.

Amedeo Modigliani. Nude. (Anna Akhmatova). c.1911. Pencil on paper. Private collection. More.
In 1910 Russian poet Nikolai Gumilev brought his young wife, also a poet, Anna Akhmatova, to Paris. The couple came on their honeymoon.

She was tall, slender and very graceful, always and everywhere she attracted glances; Parisiens, a strange folk, openly expressed their admiration of her very uncommon beauty. Gumilev, who adored her but whose love was not reciprocal, was a little jealous, but he understood, that it was a local way and tried to be polite. Only one’s man admiration suddenly aroused open irritation. The man’s name was Amedeo Modigliani.

How did they get acquainted with Modigliani? When Anna recalled their first encounter years later for other people, she always told a different story, she was creating a myth, she liked myths, like her Italian friend. Most probably they were introduced to each other by one of their mutual Russian friends, the community of Russian artists, poets, and writers was rather big and Modigliani had many friends among them. Half a century later in her memoirs she would write that she met Amedeo in the spring of 1910, but saw him only a few times. During these “few times” she fell in love, maybe he too, because he wrote to her in St. Petersburg through the rest of 1910 and the winter and spring of 1911. “I remember just a few sentences from his letters, one of them ‘Vous etes en moi comme une hantise’ (You are my obsession),” remembered Akhmatova. Some art historians date his nudes of her to the spring of 1910. But that seems improbable. Though willful she was, she was afraid of leaving her husband, who loved her so much, she constantly felt guilty for having feelings towards another man. Still, yes, that was a strange honeymoon.
“We both did not understand one very important thing – everything, that happened, was for both of us a pre-history of our lives – his, very short, and mine – very long.” (Akhamatova)

The Gumilevs returned to Russia and Nikolai brought his wife to his mother’s estate. The old estate with its strict order and discipline quite unexpectedly gave peace and freedom to Anna, who could wander in the surrounding woods and fields for hours, thinking and dreaming, turning her feelings into poems. On the contrary, it bored and irritated Nikolai. In two months he left for Africa. And Amedeo wrote her love letters, “You are my obsession’… She wrote love verses about her obsession with him. Those are lyrical Russian verses, they could not be addressed to him as he did not know Russian, he could not understand them, these are Russian verses addressed to an idol with Modigliani’s appearance… “Modigliani was very sorry he could not understand my poems.” (Akhmatova)

As soon as Nikolai returned from Africa, Anna left for Paris. She went to Amedeo. He was occupied with sculpture at the time and was fond of Egypt. “He took me to the Louvre, its Egyptian department… Drew my head in decoration of Egyptian tsarinas and dancers and seemed to be fully occupied with the art of Egypt.”
He adored her long neck and elongated body. Who knows, he was in love because her forms answered his aesthetic ideal, or vice versa, her shape influenced the stylistics of his works, made them so recognizable, “neo-manneristic”?

“Modigliani subjects Jeanne entirely to his style” an art historian, Doris Krystof, writes about the painter’s common-law wife, Jeanne Hebuterne. Yes, on the photo Jeanne looks rather broad faced, in life she was well-built, but short, petite. Anna’s body was not needed to be subjected to the style, it fully answered his future style.

“Modigliani liked to wander about Paris at night, and often, when I heard his steps in the dreamy silence of the street, I used to come up to a window and through jalousie follow his shadow which slowed under my window.” That’s all. Even 50 years later her prose about him is decent and decorous.

The truth is, however, in her passionate verses.

When you're drunk it's so much fun --
Your stories don't make sense.
An early fall has strung
The elms with yellow flags.
We've strayed into the land of deceit
And we're repenting bitterly,
Why then are we smiling these
Strange and frozen smiles?
We wanted piercing anguish
Instead of placid happiness. . .
I won't abandon my friend,
So dissolute and mild.
1911 (Paris)
-- translated by Judith Hemschemeyer

Originally published (in Russian) in the book Evening, 1912

(Unfortunately it’s the mark of any poetry – rendered into another language it preserves the idea, but not melody, music, feelings and, that is why, not the essence of the original. Sorry to say, but we did not find any English version of translation equal to the original poems.)

The truth is in Anna’s jealousy and irritation with all his other women, especially the one, Beatrice Hastings. The strange love affair between Modigliani and Hastings lasted for nearly 2 years. Beatrice was a journalist, a poetess, a circus artist, a follower of Blavatsky, talented spiritual medium… She wrote of Modigliani, “A complex character. A swine and a pearl”. “I read in an American essay,’ writes Akhmatova, ‘that one Beatrice Hastings made a strong influence on Modigliani… I can, and think it’s necessary, to state, that he was well educated long before his meeting with Beatrice… And I doubt that a woman, who calls the great painter a swine, can enlighten somebody.” Anna could not forgive the unknown rival the word ‘swine’. ...

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