The real Paris: Anna remembers Amedeo

She met Modigliani when he was still poor and unrecognized. They sat in the Jardin du Luxembourg and recited Verlaine to each other. He drew sixteen portraits of her, of which only one survives. She preferred it to any other and kept it hanging in her room to the end of her days. She describes these meetings with Modigliani in a memoir of him published in 1965, and notes with evident nostalgia that the city in which they took place was ‘vieux Paris et Paris d’avant guerre,’ where the principal means of transport was still the fiacre. The Russian ballet was all the rage—The Firebird was put on in June 1910—and Chagall had already arrived ‘with his magical Vitebsk.  (Max Hayward, Writers in Russia: 1917-1978.)

Later in life, not having left Russia again in a third of a century, she would be astonished to learn how famous he had become.

–David Markson

In her 70’s, Anna Akhmatova wrote of Modigliani:

In 1910, I saw him very rarely, just a few times. But he wrote to me during the whole winter. I remember some sentences from his letters. One was: Vous êtes en moi comme une hantise  (You are obsessively part of me).

One day there was a misunderstanding about our appointment, and when I called for Modigliani, I found him out—but I decided to wait for him for a few minutes. I held an armful of red roses. The window, which was above the locked gates of the studio, was open. To while away the time, I started to throw the flowers into the studio. Modigliani didn’t come, and I left.

When I met him, he expressed his surprise about my getting into the locked room while he had the key. I explained how it happened. “It’s impossible—they lay so beautifully.”

Modigliani liked to wander about Paris at night and often when I heard his steps in the sleepy silence of the streets, I came to the window and through the blinds watched his shadow, which lingered under my windows….

It was he who showed me the real Paris.

Anna Akhmatova, Modigliani, 1911

Anna Akhmatova, Modigliani, 1911

Probably, we both did not understand one important thing: everything that happened was for both of us a prehistory of our future lives: his very short one, my very long one. The breathing of art still had not charred or transformed the two existences; this must have been the light, radiant hour before dawn.

…everything divine in Modigliani only sparkled through a kind of darkness. He was different from any other person in the world. His voice somehow always remained in my memory. I knew him as a beggar and it was impossible to understand how he existed—as an artist he didn’t have a shadow of recognition.

I know now that what most fascinated him about me was my ability to read other people’s thoughts, to dream other people’s dreams and a few other things of which everyone who knew me had long since been aware. He repeatedly said to me: On communique…. (We understand each other.)

–Anna Akhmatova

Amedeo Modigliani

Amedeo Modigliani

What I am searching for is neither the real nor the unreal, but the Subconscious, the mystery of what is instinctive in the human race.

–Amedeo Modigliani

 

He used to rave about Egypt. At the Louvre, he showed me the Egyptian collection and told me there was no point I see anything else, “tout le reste.” He drew my head bedecked with the jewelry of Egyptian queens and dancers, and seemed totally overawed by the majesty of Egyptian art.

–Anna Akhmatova

 

Anna Akhmatova - Head of woman 1911 Amedeo Modigliani

Anna Akhmatova – Head of woman 1911 Amedeo Modigliani

 

 

Anna, Black crayon, Modigliani

Anna, Black crayon, Modigliani

 

Head with Chignon, Black Crayon, Modigliani

Head with Chignon, Black Crayon, Modigliani

 

I Don’t Know If You’re Alive Or Dead

Portrait of Akhmatova, Modigliani

Portrait of Akhmatova, Modigliani

I don’t know if you’re alive or dead.
Can you on earth be sought,
Or only when the sunsets fade
Be mourned serenely in my thought?

All is for you: the daily prayer,
The sleepless heat at night,
And of my verses, the white
Flock, and of my eyes, the blue fire.

No-one was more cherished, no-one tortured
Me more, not
Even the one who betrayed me to torture
Not even the one who caressed me and forgot.

–Anna Akhmatova

 

 

Anna Akhmatova as Acrobat, Modigliani

Anna Akhmatova as Acrobat, Modigliani

Modigliani, Blue Caryatid Kneeling

Modigliani, Blue Caryatid Kneeling

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Akhmatova, courtesy of The Akhmatova Museum, St Petersburg

Akhmatova, courtesy of The Akhmatova Museum, St Petersburg

Additional Sources:

Amedeo Modigliani

The New York Review of Books, 1975, Amedeo Modigliani (Anna Akhmatova, translated by Djemma Bider)

Poem Hunter, Anna Akhmatova Poem (translation not attributed)

Posted by Jillian Parker

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